Do “No Cold Calling” stickers actually work, or are they dangerous?

An often repeated piece of advice you might hear when it comes to doorstep crime is to put a “no cold calling” sticker or sign on your front door. The idea is pretty simple, and seems effective, if you assume that legitimate callers won’t knock and therefore any callers that do chap your door are very likely fraudsters. Unfortunately, much like the TPS loop holes, when you start to analyse a “no cold calling” policy, it ends up having more caveats than you might realise. Technically speaking, “cold calling” only applies to callers that have no prior relationship with the callee and are attempting to sell good or services. It doesn’t apply to electricity/gas meter readings, people you may have dealt with previously, Royal Mail’s junk mail, delivery drivers, police, the council, religious groups, political canvassers, market researchers, and many more.

As there’s so many caveats, and fraudsters aren’t exactly known for their adherence to the rules, I feel that “no cold calling” stickers do very little in the way of protecting the vulnerable and elderly as the only people that won’t call are the legitimate door-to-door sales companies. And therein lies the rub…

Could the stickers help fraudsters in identifying the vulnerable?

I know around 5 people with “no cold calling” stickers on their front door or windows — all of whom are retired and arguably vulnerable to scams. Additionally, not one of them decided themselves to put the stickers up off their own backs — many were pushed by relatives, read something in a newspaper that recommended it as a solution, or were previously scammed at the door. This is interesting because all the “no cold calling” schemes I’ve seen that distribute them for free are targeted at relatives of vulnerable people, or the vulnerable themselves, through channels that are appropriate (such as Neighbourhood Watch, community councils, or local Trading Standards).

Much like certain social media posts that entice people to share blindly and are used in the future to profile people who are most likely to fall for certain scams, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to assume that these “no cold calling” stickers are used in the same capacity. I’d like to point out here that I have no definitive proof that this is the case, however given that I haven’t seen anything to the contrary and it’s one of the first thoughts I had, I’m sure the fraudsters have thought about it too.

It’s a nice idea, but there’s far too many caveats

Again, like the TPS, at first glance it seems like a pretty straight forward idea — assume every caller is potentially fraudulent because you displayed a “no cold calling sign” but, as I already pointed out above, there’s many caveats that the sign won’t apply to. For example, from Coventry City Council’s own website:

“Our stickers are not designed to prevent politicians from canvassing for elections, religious groups or market researchers. However, residents do not have speak to anyone at the door. […] The stickers are not aimed at stopping genuine charity collections…”

Then of course there’s the caveat of people like meter reading, TV licensing, council representatives, the building management company, or even delivery drivers turning up — often unannounced — who will overlook the “no cold calling” sticker as they have a reason to be there. While I have no problems with any of the above turning up, there are many documented cases of bogus meter readers, police, delivery drivers, and similar turning up at people’s houses, showing fake ID, and gaining access to the property.

I regularly ask for ID at the door before entertaining anyone that’s knocked but I’ll be brutally honest — I have no idea what I’m looking for when checking out ID other than if it looks fake or not. Good looking ID cards aren’t difficult to make and as they vary between organisations, there’s no definitive way of checking if the person is telling the truth (save for phoning the company they’re calling from directly to confirm). As many people that are targeted are elderly, and (importantly) come from a trusting generation, they might not realise that ID can be faked.

So, do they work?

Honestly? I’ve no idea if they do or not. My argument here is that they could be used by fraudsters (and I’d be surprised if they hadn’t already) to identify vulnerable people more likely to be in during the day and likely to fall for a scam. I view cold calling labels much like the TPS — a nice idea, but inherently flawed. I’m happy to be called out on this though, so please do tweet me @ScottMcGready or leave a comment below. Even if they’re not used as a profiling tool, this quote from Surrey County Council’s website sums up my thoughts somewhat:

“Unfortunately, not all cold calling traders will respect your wishes and some will ignore your sticker.”

My advice

I’m a big fan of making advice as simple and easy as possible to give, follow, and pass on. That’s why I love the #tell2 campaign. Simple yet effective.

  • Never do business at the door.
  • Ask for ID for unannounced callers, and don’t be afraid to call the company on a number you trust to verify they are legitimate.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask more questions, or “waste their time” with security checks — if they’re legitimate, they’re being paid to do so.
  • Take five minutes and think about something. Don’t feel time pressured to letting someone in, or signing up to something.
  • Tell two people in the real world if something seems odd — especially neighbours.
  • If you know an elderly or vulnerable person that may be a potential target for bogus salesmen or cold callers — drop in on them regularly and make sure they have your number on speed dial so they can call you if unsure.
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