Doorstep scams can be particularly distressing as they generally take place in your own home. They are usually targeted at older and vulnerable people who are at home during the day.

Here are some of the most common cons you should be on your guard for when a stranger comes knocking.

Phoney charity collections

You may be approached at home by someone claiming to be from a charity. They’ll ask for donations to a cause, in many cases the request is linked to a high-profile disaster like an earthquake in another country.

However, either the charity doesn’t exist or the fraudster is pretending to be from a well-known name and pocketing anything you hand over.

In some cases you could be asked to donate items like clothing or household items with a bag linked to a charity. But fraudsters can take them, sell them on and keep the money.

Genuine charities are registered with the Charity Commission and print their details on all documentation, bags, envelopes etc. You can check online or over the phone on 0845 300 0218. Collectors must also have proof that they are working with a charity and collecting legitimately. So ask to see this before handing anything over.

Bogus electricity top-ups

A rising problem are doorstep visitors saying they can offer cheaper energy to people who have pre-payment meters. A typical 'deal' might be to buy a £50 top-up for £25.

However, these people are criminals using cloned keys that don’t hold what they say they do, so victims that fall for this scam end up losing money.

According to Action Fraud UK more than 110,000 households have been impacted by this crime and customers of all the leading energy companies including British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, nPower, Scottish Power and SSE have been targeted.

You should never buy electricity on your doorstep, as electricity companies do not engage in door-to-door sales. Buy electricity from official outlets like PayPoint, Payzone and the Post Office.

[Related story: Common postal scams coming through your door to watch out for]

Rogue tradesmen

Rogue tradesmen turn up at your door out of the blue offering repairs, improvements or maintenance you don’t need or want.

The cowboy, who will no doubt have the gift of the gab, might offer to fix damp, your roof or guttering, tidy up your garden, install cavity wall insulation or even talk you into thinking you need to re-lay your driveway or patio.

They’ll try to convince you the work is urgent, claim your home is unsafe, that the price they’re offering is a bargain, pressurise you into making a decision on the spot and will likely ask for payment upfront to start a job.

But in reality you will be charged a lot for poor quality work – if the work is done at all.

You should be wary of tradesmen attempting to get you to sign up for work on your doorstep. Ask to see some identification and don’t feel like you have to agree straight away. If they are reluctant to confirm their identity, try pressurising you, or if it all sounds too good to be true then chances are it’s a scam.

If work really needs doing you should always get a few quotes and do your homework to select the right tradesman for the job. That might mean asking friends and family for recommendations or going online to find qualified people part of trade bodies or that come highly recommended.

Take a look at MyBuilder.com and Trustatrader.com. You should also ask to see examples of previous work, follow up references, make sure they have insurance and ask about any guarantees they offer.

Dodgy doorstep salesmen

You may also get people turning up at your doorstep trying to sell you goods on the spot or that will be delivered at a later date.

Common scams include fake energy-saving gadgets which the seller claims will cut your electricity bills or things like mobility aids, food, encyclopaedias and household items.

Often these salesmen will apply high-pressure tactics to secure a sale, turning on the charm at first but then becoming hostile as you resist. Or they may tug at the heartstrings by claiming they are selling as part of a rehabilitation programme or job centre scheme.

But these characters are often selling shoddy or overpriced goods that aren’t worth buying.

You should be wary of people that try to pressurise you to buy on your doorstep or in your home. Think about whether you need or even want what they are selling. If you do buy remember Doorstep Selling Regulations mean you have a ‘cooling off’ period of 14 days to change your mind and cancel.

Fake official visitors

In some cases scammers pretend to be from an official organisation like a utility company, the council or even the police to gain entry to your home.

Once inside these criminals either check out your property for a future robbery or attempt to steal something there and then sometimes with the help of an accomplice.

Remember you don’t have to let anyone into your home just because they claim to be official. Always act with caution before allowing strangers in. You should confirm they are who they claim to be by asking for ID and calling up the relevant organisation using a number you source yourself.

How to protect yourself

Here are some tips to avoid getting ripped off by doorstep scams.

  • Always check a charity is genuine before making a donation. The same goes for the person claiming to be from the charity.
  • Think about whether you want or need anything the visitor is offering.
  • Make sure the visitor properly identities him/herself and the company they represent. Keep a note of these details to check out.
  • Don’t feel pressurised to sign up for a service or pay for goods straight away. Get more quotes for jobs that need doing and compare prices for goods that a salesperson claims to be a bargain.
  • Do your homework before going ahead with improvements or repairs.
  • Always get a quote made in writing, with a full breakdown of the costs including VAT before allowing any work to start.
  • Be wary of people offering a one-time only price for agreeing to transactions on the spot.
  • If you can pay for goods and services over £100 on a credit card, you’ll get protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, which makes the credit card provider equally liable with the salesman or tradesman.
  • Resist paying for work upfront before it has been completed. Only pay once you are happy with a job or set a strict timetable of payments for longer jobs.You should install a peep hole to check who’s at your door before opening it. Plus a safety chain is also a good idea to ensure no one can force their way into your home.

If you do fall victim to a doorstep scam you should report it to Action Fraud.

Also remember there are specific laws surrounding door-to-door sales, which require a ‘cooling off’ period (where you can change your mind or request your money back) for goods and services. So if you decide you want to cancel, act fast.

More on scams and how to avoid them