Consumer Watch: Door-to-Door Sales Scams

By GalTime's Consumer Watchdog Mary Schwager

Beware of this latest scam that can happen right on your front door! Beware of this latest scam that can happen right on your front door!

Door-to-door sales may sound remarkably old fashioned in this digital age, but consumer agencies around the country are cautioning consumers about something they're calling a "new scam."

The Better Business Bureau just released a major warning: Be careful of door-to-door salespeople peddling magazine subscriptions. Additionally, the New Hampshire Attorney General's office and many police departments nationwide all want you to be cautious.

Gretchen Kennedy, from Wilmington, Delaware learned the hard way. She was working from home when she heard a knock at the door. She says two young men were on her porch trying to sell her magazine subscriptions. Gretchen tried to tell them "no", but they gave her the hard sell. Finally, after the men said her subscription would help fund charter schools, she gave in and cut them a check. But the magazine never arrived! "It angers me that, that someone would pull the fundraising card," Kennedy says.

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The Better Business Bureau warns that is exactly the type of scam they have received more than a thousand complaints about, this year alone!

New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney says the "help a struggling student ploy" is the scammer's most popular approach. "Consumers are warned that sales people coming to their homes may be misrepresenting themselves as neighbors and individuals working to earn money to go to college, when many of these individuals, who are employed by United Circulation, have come from out of state and may not be college students," Delaney says.

The AG cautions, you're flat out wasting your money.

"Consumers are also warned that United Circulation charges subscription fees far in excess of the actual cost of the subscription," states Delaney.

In addition to magazine subscription sales scams, complaints about door-to-door salespeople hocking all kinds of other stuff is also on the rise. The Better Business Bureau receives thousands of complaints each year from consumers who unknowingly fall for scamming solicitors. While many door-to-door salespersons are honest, the BBB says its top complaints are about cosmetics and poor quality photography, even meat that was no good.

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The BBB's Paula Fleming warns that deceptive door-to-door sellers are looking to make a quick buck. "Unscrupulous marketers sometimes trick consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for items they don't want or can't afford. Oftentimes, their presentations are so slick that consumers aren't even aware that they have actually made a purchase," she says.

So what should you do if a fast talking, hard selling and seemingly too slick solicitor shows up at your door?

The BBB says:

1. Be safe: Ask for identification before you open the door. Never invite the solicitor into your home.

2. 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.

3. Research the company with BBB: Visit BBB.org to view the company's BBB Business Review to find out more about their 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.

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4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Stand strong: 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.

Remember, if you want more time to ponder a purchase, get the salesperson's card, tell them you want to think about it and you'll call them if you're interested.

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