Local resident Louise Joy always checks identification when a door-to-door salesperson comes calling. – photo by Tony Tucci
by Tony Tucci
AUSTIN – Knock, knock. Who’s there? It’s no joke though when the person knocking at your door is trying to get your money by telling a story that your donation will help pay her college tuition while buying books for patients at Dell Children’s Hospital.
It sounds too good to be true, and that’s exactly what Louise Joy thought as she listened to the young woman who showed up on her doorstep in the Granada Hills neighborhood on a recent Saturday afternoon.
“I told her I wanted some time to think about it and asked her to stop back later,” Joy said. The minute the woman left, Joy got on the computer. The young saleswoman had shown Joy some checks she said were written by neighborhood residents and made out to a company named “Experience” or “Experience Sales.”
It didn’t take Joy long to learn that there are numerous “rip off” complaints filed against the company, not only in Austin but across the country as well. In each case a similar story was used by the salesperson. It was a college student trying to earn money for tuition by selling magazine subscriptions. The magazines could be used by the homeowner or donated to local hospitals.
Experienced Sales isn’t the only company in the complaint folder, and the salesperson doesn’t always appear to be a clean-cut college student. A Scenic Brook resident reported that two different sales people have stopped at his home in the past two weeks.
“One was a rough-looking guy with a tattoo across his throat who said he was a neighborhood kid raising money for his baseball team to go to the playoffs,” the resident said. “He didn’t like it when I pointed out that baseball season was long gone,” the resident said.
“Another tried to sell me a miracle cleaner for $80 a gallon. He was pushy and became abusive when I declined to buy this stuff after he cleaned my tire rim without being asked. I was actually concerned he might come back and slash my tires.”
Roger Wade, spokesperson for Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, cautioned residents to be wary of anyone coming to the door seeking contributions of this sort. “Check out the charity to make sure it’s legitimate,” Wade said. “Don’t give out any personal information. It’s very easy to say ‘no, thank you’ but it’s hard to get the information back once it’s out there,” Wade said.
Ms. Joy said she found the woman who knocked at her door still in the neighborhood and told her about the negative reports on the computer. “I asked her for a student ID and she just looked at me. Her reaction was that no one had asked her for it before. She said she left it at home. When asked for an address she gave me a street number that didn’t exist. I told her to leave the neighborhood and stop bothering my neighbors.” Joy then called the Sheriff’s Department, but the woman had gone by the time a deputy arrived.
“This salesperson told me she was a student at Arizona State University and would get credit for a sales class if she turned in a receipt,” Joy said. “She had a bubbly personality, and I thought I’d like to help her. But I had enough concern to ask questions.”
Another Granada Hills neighbor said she bought the story (and the books), although she had doubts about some of the details. “This salesperson was so smooth, and I have a soft spot in my heart for sales people anyway,” she said. “I was looking for anyway I could support her.”
The resident said another thing that bothered her was that the saleswoman asked if she had any pets. “When I said no, she kept looking around the house. I’m pretty sure she was casing the place.”
Once Joy put out a neighborhood e-mail about the possible scam, the second resident said she stopped payment on her check.
The Austin Police Department said the most important thing for residents to remember is to exercise caution when a stranger comes to the door. “Keep your doors and windows locked and your blinds closed when you’re not at home,” said spokesperson Vanessa Bremner. “Be sure you recognize someone before you open your door to them. Get to know your neighbors and work together. Report anything unusual or suspicious to police.” Bremner said residents should call 311 to make a report, unless it’s an emergency, when they can call 911.
The Better Business Bureau receives thousands of complaints each year from consumers who unknowingly fall victim to scamming door-to-door salespeople. The BBB said that while most salespersons are honest, it receives troubling reports from consumers who purchase items like magazines that never came, cosmetics and photography of poor quality and even meat that was no good. The BBB warns that deceptive sellers are looking to make a quick buck—and they’re on the rise.
BBB offers these tips on dealing with high pressure, door-to-door sellers:
The most common complaint BBB receives involves consumers paying for magazines they never receive. Several consumers allege the sales representative misled them by claiming to work for a local school or charity fundraiser.
Sales representatives knock on doors selling produce or meat products, claiming their prices are much lower than grocery stores. So far in 2012, BBB has received 25 complaints against companies selling meat products door-to-door. Consumer complaints to BBB allege that their orders never arrive, or are not of the high quality originally promised.
Other industries employing door-to-door sales tactics that BBB receives the most complaints about are cosmetics, photography and cleaning supply companies. If visited by a door-to-door sales representative, BBB recommends consumers do the following:
Be safe. Ask for identification before you open the door. Never invite the solicitor into your home.
Be wary of high-pressure sales tactics. A trustworthy company should let you take time to think about the purchase and compare prices before buying or putting down a deposit. Research the company with BBB. Visit bbb.org to view the company’s BBB Business Review to find out more about its marketplace performance. If you have a smart phone, you can download and use the BBB app to access the company’s report while the person is standing at your door, or visit m.bbb.org on your mobile device.
Get transaction details in writing. Be sure you receive a contract or receipt explaining the details of your purchase and all the terms and conditions that apply. Remember the “Three-Day Cooling-Off Rule.” The Federal Trade Commission’s Three-Day Cooling-Off Rule gives consumers three days to cancel purchases of more than $25 that are made in their home or at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business. Along with a receipt, the salesperson should always provide a cancellation form that can be sent to the company to cancel the purchase within three days. By law, the company must give consumers a refund within 10 days of receiving the cancellation notice.
Listen carefully and be aware of high-pressure sales tactics. Some unscrupulous door-to-door sellers will put pressure on you to close the deal at that moment, and even make special offers to entice you. Listen to their tone. Are they increasing in volume as they speak to you? Are they ignoring you despite saying you are not interested? Find a way to end the conversation quickly to avoid long, drawn-out sales pitches.
Stand strong. Do not invite unsolicited salespeople into your home. If you do allow a salesperson inside and decide during the presentation that you are not interested in making a purchase, simply ask him or her to leave. If the salesperson refuses to leave, threaten to call the police, and follow through if they don’t leave immediately.
Victims of fraudulent door-to-door sales can file a complaint with their Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org, local law enforcement, or state Attorney General’s office.
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