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BBB Tips: Legitimate salesperson or scammer?

by Mike Harrison, For the News Tribune | May 3, 2015 at 2:52 a.m. | Updated May 3, 2015 at 2:52 a.m.

As soon as the weather warms up, door-to-door salespeople start knocking on doors to sell home improvements, yard work, magazines or alarm upgrades.

Not all of these salespeople are honest, and scammers often prey on lonely or elderly people who are willing to open their doors. How do you tell the legitimate salespeople from the scammers?

First of all, very few established contractors make their living by selling door-to-door. Most trustworthy contractors get customers from referrals or from sources other than knocking on doors.

Several schemes to look out for include people who say they need to upgrade an existing alarm system, high-priced magazines, or contractors who go door-to-door after a storm damages nearby homes.

Alarm system salespeople sometimes comb neighborhoods looking for signs indicating that a home already has a system. They knock on the door and offer to upgrade your system. In reality, they disconnect your existing company's alarm system and install their own. If you sign their agreement, you could be locked into a multi-year contract that can be broken only by paying a costly penalty.

Magazine sales scammers may offer you a "good deal," or they may say they're selling subscriptions to pay for college or for some other legitimate-sounding cause. Unfortunately, the magazines they sell often are over-priced, and the tale they tell isn't true. Every year, Better Business Bureau gets complaints from people who bought magazines from door-to-door salespeople but never received them.

Storm chasers are contractors who canvass neighborhoods affected by a major storm. They look for signs of damage and offer to clean it up right away, often for an upfront fee. However, they offer little in the way of contact information, no written contract, and it can be difficult to find them when you need them to finish the job.

So is there any option besides keeping the doors locked? Remember, you are not obligated to open the door if you don't want to talk to someone. The salesman likely will just go on to the next house if you don't answer.

Beware of salespeople who arrive unannounced. Ask for identification and their door-to-door soliciting permit before you listen to their spiel. Don't commit to anything on the spot. Say you'll look at their literature and check around before you call them back. If they refuse to leave, call police.

Resist pressure to make an immediate commitment, especially for contracting work or an alarm system. Take time to check the company out with Better Business Bureau at bbb.org or with friends or neighbors. Ask the company to give you names and contact information for satisfied customers, and make sure you contact them.

Read any contract carefully and ask questions until you understand it. Don't rely on what the salesman promises unless it is written into the contract. Consumers have three days to cancel a door-to-door sales contract, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Never pay the entire amount for a contracting job up front. Reserve the final payment until you're satisfied with the completed work.

Mike Harrison is Better Business Bureau's Mid-Missouri regional manager. You can contact him at [email protected] or by calling 573-886-8965.

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