Residential OPSEC With Utility Workers, by Gonzo in Virginia

I want to warn and educate my fellow SurvivalBlog readers about a growing trend of people impersonating utility workers and other people in authority to gain entry to people’s homes.  My awareness of this was recently heightened when just such an attempt was made on my home against my wife. I was truly surprised, after all the talks we have had about security, just how unprepared she was for this situation.

Several days ago a man came to our door saying he needed to look at our gas meter. This man was driving a white pickup, which he had parked across the street, with an orange cone placed behind it. He was wearing a baseball hat, T-shirt, and cargo shorts with tennis shoes and was carrying some papers. He insisted that he had to come in and check the meter and the gas connections in the house. My wife informed him that there was no need as we had the gas removed from our house several years before.  This seemed to confuse him and he started to quiz my wife on when and how could she be sure. He said he still needed to check and kept placing his foot on the stoop as if he wanted to come in.  At this time a neighbor came out of their house and started to make a lot of noise to attract the workers attention and to let him know he was watching.

Now that the worker had a witness my wife said he seemed nervous and asked to check to see if there was a meter around back. He also asked if there was a dog or a gate.  My wife told him that he could check and he then went around the side of the house for a minute and then got in his truck and left.  She then messaged me at work to laugh at how stupid the natural gas person was since we did not have gas.

I realized this person was not with the gas company. I immediately called my wife back and told her to call the police right away and tell them what had happened. She also called the gas company and found out they had no one in the area. When speaking to the police operator they kept asking if the person who came to the door had on a red shirt indicating that this was not the first call they had received with this sort of attempt.

It is very interesting to note that with something as simple as an orange traffic cone and a piece of paper this fake worker was almost able to gain entry to my home and did not set off any alarms in my wife’s head. She had totally bought his story and was going along with it. I have no doubt that if this person had gained entry to my home a tragedy would have ensued afterwards. Gaining fast access to the interior of the home is the point to either case it for later robbery or to carry out some attack right then.  Another form of this scam is to trick the occupant of the house to follow the worker to the rear of the home and keep them busy in the back yard while a conspirator robs the interior of the home.

As preppers we spend a lot of time on OPSEC and not standing out and in this case it creates a chink in our armor. If this person had attempted an assault on my home it would have been over in short order, their slow approach allowed them to get a lot closer than they ever should have been able to. This person could not have found out I was an interesting target if they had checked my internet life or even observed my home for any period of time. They chose my home to attempt this simply because they drove by and saw my wife in the yard watering the garden, most likely, and the house did not stand out. They thought they had found an average suburban home to go after because that is what I wanted them to see. I had not realized that my front door represented, with just my wife present, such an obvious breach.

To clear this deficiency I have placed some subtle but necessary changes to the exterior. First is a simple beware of the dog sign. While I don’t actually have a dog, the fear of a dog is big demotivator to the type of person who wants to try these sorts of scams. They are looking for the easiest most readily available target they can find. Any sign that your house is not an easy plum to pluck and they will move on.
The second item is the addition of a camera at my front door. People who perpetuate these sorts of scams cannot stand to have themselves documented. The last thing they want is to show up on the evening news. Even a fake camera is a deterrent to them.  With the introduction of wireless cameras installing them around your house, with built in infrared abilities, can be accomplished for less than a $500 and be done in an afternoon. Exterior cameras are no longer the hugely bulky items they once were and have become common in neighborhoods on people’s homes. So while they do mark my house as being security conscious, they don’t stand out like a red flag that I am prepping.   The idea is to be just obvious enough scam artists and home invaders will steer clear of my home but not to stand out like a sore thumb.

I have upgraded my gates and my screen door. The exterior of my fences and gates are smooth and do not allow easy climbing and the gate latches tight from the inside and has no exterior latch. The Screen door has been swapped out for a locking screen door that is made of steel bars painted white to blend in. you can now open the door and have a grate between you and anyone at the door. Once again all carefully designed to blend in, but to make sure the right level of deterrent is presented so that the fake utility workers move on to easier targets.

The biggest changes are procedural. Having a standard way of dealing with visitors to the front door goes a long way in mitigating these dangers. To help SurvivalBlog readers with this threat I offer this Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for dealing with Utility workers when they present themselves. While I refer to utility workers I am also referring to any person who might appear at your door on any given day. Most criminals tend to stick with utility or alarm company workers, but even traveling missionaries should not be above suspicion. Criminals are looking to exploit the conditioned response in people with these roles so anything you might feel comfortable with is fair game to use against you.

  1. When anyone comes to your door do not open it for them right away. Observe them through the peep hole or the window. Ideally have a storm door, steel barred door, or other exterior barrier on your front door that is closed and secured to slow or stop any dash for sudden entry. You want to be able to close your door quickly on any attempted rush. A chain lock is a poor substitute for an exterior barrier unless very strongly attached to the frame and the door. You want to slow or stop the rush long enough to acquire a weapon and call for help.
  2. Ask the person at the door to step back from the door. Create a buffer between you and them before you open the door. Experience has shown that a legitimate door to door person will already do that as they are worried about dogs or other attacks coming from the door. Predators on the other hand will crowd the door as they are focused on getting inside.  This should be a clue as to the person’s intentions.
  3. If there is more than one person keeps both of them in sight and don’t allow them to split up or for them to split you up if you have more than one person with you.
  4. A legitimate utility worker or city worker will be wearing a uniform and have Identification with them. In most localities door to door vendors are also required to have ID. Ask for this ID. If they cannot present ID return inside of your home and call the police.
  5. If the person at your door does have ID have them wait while you check their ID. Call their office. Look up this number for yourself. Do not accept any number given to you by the person presenting the ID on a flyer or other printable material. Often these numbers are faked so that if you call them a co-conspirator at that number will vouch for them. By finding the number yourself you eliminate this chance and make it impossible for them to spoof the number.
  6. Do not give any information to the person at the door. Especially the number of people at home at the time. Also do not reveal any items such as weapons, alarms, or animals in the home. One of the major tricks for people casing homes to rob later is to pose as Alarm company technicians. They will offer a free security “check” to find out just how unsecure your home is and then use this information to rob you at a later date.
  7. Inspect their vehicles. Do they have the utility or other logos on them clearly marked? Are there tools in the vehicle? Legitimate workers are driving company vehicles and will be marked as such. Due to legal issues workers do not drive their own vehicles, especially city workers. They will have tools with them as their company won’t want them to have to make two trips to do work.  
  8. If the person is offering a service you might actually have use for schedule them to come back at another time of your choosing, preferably when more people will be around if you are alone. A legitimate business will return, a scam or stick up artist will not. Stick to your guns no matter how many limited time offers they dangle in front of you.
  9. Know your utility easements and where they run on your property. Do not allow workers into your backyard if all your easements are in the front.  You cannot stop a legitimate worker from reaching their proper easements but you can make them verify themselves. Have them bring the police or a supervisor to the scene before they start work.
  10. Take pictures. Take pictures of their vehicle and of the person. A person scoping out a house to rob will not come back if they know their now exists a link to the location. They are on your property or on a public right of way so you have a right to take pictures of them at any time.
  11. If the person is using the excuse of an emergency, such as a gas leak, to gain entry to your home demand that their police escort be present. In a real emergency of this nature they don’t send one guy with a traffic cone out to deal with it, there will be hundreds of responders to verify this person’s story.

Ultimately it boils down to the fact that, even if you called the person to your home, if you don’t feel comfortable ask them to leave or arm yourself and call the police. You have every right to question a person’s authority or right to be somewhere. Don’t let people push you around or try to bully you, Stand your ground.  It is far better to be perceived as rude and paranoid than to be perceived as an easy target.