Residents Warned of Door-to-door Tea Towel Scam

Ex-criminals reported to be targeting women living alone

Sniffer dog during a search. Picture: Hammersmith & Fulham

January 23, 2023

Hammersmith and Fulham Council residents have been warned to watch out for scammers posing as ex-criminals and flogging tea towels for as much as £20 each. The scammers are trying to look inside people’s homes so they can sell information to burglars, thieves and muggers.

The council said con men were targeting single women living alone in the borough by posing as fake ex-criminals trying to sell cheap good as part of a “rehabilitation programme”.

Helen – who wishes not to be fully named – was stung by scammers in October after having just moved into the neighbourhood. She said a tall, “intimidating” man approached her front door and made his way in after realising it was open.

He told the mum-of-one that if she didn’t buy any of his products that he’d go hungry. Helen forked out £20 for disinfectant wipes and rubber gloves, which typically cost just a few quid.

Helen said, “He was tall and intimidating and you know, I am petite, so I felt scared. After I paid for it, I went online to see if it had happened to other people and I found others saying it was a fraud.”

She added, “I was also a bit scared that they could be criminals checking details such as who is living here and that they may do something terrible in the future after reading similar cases online. It was a terrible feeling as we had just moved to the neighbourhood.”

The products were such bad quality that they “could have been given out for free”, Helen said, adding, “It’s such a shame that these people take advantage of others’ kindness.”

Weeks later, another salesman returned but this time Helen used her wits to ward him off. She had also installed a security camera.

Some of the products offer for sale and a sticker to discourage door-to-door selling

Senior Trading Standards Officer Doug Love said that these groups check for any security features and sell the information on a “mug list” to burglars for cash.

He said, “They see what they can about a home, to see if the resident might be gullible enough for another trader, or to have a look to see what type of security is at the front door, like if there is a chain or if the person is security conscious. We know there’s a currency in that sort of thing.”

He said the scammers often pretend to be ex-inmates on a probation scheme, despite no such programme existing in the borough.

The fake salesman are known to go door to door in the borough with holdalls of poor-quality dusters, dishcloths and sprays and flash fake permits. Doug said catching the criminals was “almost impossible” because victims report the crime weeks after it happened.

Hammersmith and Fulham’s trading standards department released a guide to help locals to spot a scam in action. It advises residents to put a “no uninvited traders” poster on their front door, use smart doorbells with built-in cameras, or door chain for unexpected callers.

Doug said, “Don’t deal with cold callers. Full stop. At its most innocent, they’re people selling overpriced goods. But at the more sinister end, it’s assessing the potential for far more serious crimes.

“If you don’t know who’s knocking, don’t open the door or use a door chain. We need to warn people, especially elderly residents, from being as trusting as they are. The successful scammers are the charming, persuasive ones.”

Adrian Zorzut - Local Democracy Reporter