An operation to raise awareness of doorstep crime will be taking place across Highland and Islands this week.

Operation Monarda is a national campaign being held across Scotland to highlight doorstep crime and to promote how the public can protect themselves from becoming a victim of this type of offence.

Doorstep crime affects some of the most vulnerable members of local communities, with perpetrators mainly targeting victims due to a perceived vulnerability, such as age, gender or disability.

There are two main types of doorstep crime - bogus callers and rogue traders.

Bogus callers try to get into a person's home or obtain personal details by pretending to be someone they’re not, including council staff, charity collectors, meter readers and police officers. In reality, they are criminals trying to steal money and valuables.

Rogue traders usually cold-call, claiming to be workers offering services such as making repairs or carrying out work on a person's house, garden or driveway. In reality they charge inflated prices for poor quality or unnecessary work.

T/Superintendent Colin Gough said: " Doorstep crime is typically aimed at vulnerable members of the community and is completely callous and unacceptable. We have been working closely with Communities, Trading Standards colleagues and partner agencies and we are committed to reducing the number of incidents of doorstep crime and keeping vulnerable people safe.

"Local officers have been running a series of roadshows to highlight doorstep crime and over the course of the last week, officers have been visiting Aviemore, Dingwall, Wick, Thurso, Inverness, Portree, Nairn, Fort William and Inverness.

"Officers will this week carry out visits to local post offices, banks and building societies to provide advice to bank staff, on being alert to vulnerable customers making unusual financial transactions.

"I want to send out a strong message to those involved in these activities that it will not be tolerated, and Police will continue to work tirelessly with our partners to put an end to these incidents. Doorstep crime can affect anyone but we know that the elderly can be particularly vulnerable. Bogus callers and rogue traders can be extremely convincing in their methods in securing the confidence of potential victims and, sadly, many people are convinced by their lies.

The public can assist us in our efforts by reporting any suspicious activity around the homes of family, friends or neighbours.

Key advice for the public in dealing with doorstep crime:

Keep your front and back doors locked at all times and be on guard if someone turns up unexpectedly.

Use the door viewer or nearby window when answering the door and use (or fit) a door chain or bar.
Only let callers in if they have an appointment and you have confirmed they are genuine.
Always ask for identification badges of anyone you answer the door to, but don’t rely on them. Identity cards can be faked – phone the company to verify their identity.

Some companies offer a password system. Ask your utility providers if this can be used and if you have a password with a company make sure the caller uses it.

Never let people try to persuade you to let them into your home even if they are asking for help – they may not be genuine. If someone is persistent, ask them to call at another time and arrange for a friend or family member to be with you.
Never agree to pay for goods or give money to strangers who arrive at your door.
Don’t keep large amounts of money in your home.
Don’t feel pressurised into agreeing to immediate work or buying a product or service.
Don’t agree to buy from the first person who calls.
Don’t pay cash up front or offer to go and get money.
Shop around and get a few quotes if you decide you need work done and ask for recommendations from friends and family.
Ask what your cancellation rights are.

Highland Council Trading Standards have participated in Operation Monarda since its inception and are delighted to partner Police Scotland again this year. They view the operation not only as a way to tackle bogus workmen in the area but a way of engaging with communities, to inform residents that doorstep crime does happen in the Highland Council area and to advise on how best to avoid becoming a victim.

Mark McGinty, Trading Standards Team Leader, said: “Operation Monarda is part of a series of year long joint operational activities where Trading Standards and Police Scotland share intelligence, investigate complaints, seek out bogus workmen and send joint reports to the procurator fiscal. This approach has not only resulted in individuals being given custodial sentences but in many cases our early intervention has saved communities from being targeted and those who engage with bogus workmen substantial sums of money. Working with Police Scotland in tackling doorstep crime has been a great success with reported incidents dropping by over 50% in the last few years.

“This criminal activity harms consumers, damages the economy, and threatens the livelihood of legitimate traders. While our work is continuing to ensure consumers and legitimate businesses are protected I would also like to urge people to remain vigilant and urge communities to continue to come forward, whether it’s because you have had a caller at your door or because you see a caller at a neighbouring door, your call could be the call that saves the householder their life savings and prevents the bogus workman from targeting others.”

You can report any suspected bogus workman by calling Police Scotland on 101 or 999 should you consider there to be an imminent threat, by calling Trading Standards through the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06.