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Avoiding Door-to-Door Sales Scams

3 tips on how to say no to pushy salesmen

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Avoid door-to-door sales scams: Don't answer that doorbell.

Joe and Irene Pellouso of Madera, Calif., live solely on their Social Security benefits of $2,200 a month. The last thing they can afford — or even want — is a $4,400 vacuum cleaner.

But they bought a Vortech Force vacuum after two door-to-door salesmen, who said they were students at nearby Fresno State University, convinced them it was worth two months of their total income. Joe, who is 74 and has early-stage dementia, let them inside the home while Irene was baking cookies. "They wore us down until we finally gave in," says Irene, 73, a retired office manager.

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Of course, some door-to-door salespeople, are honest folks trying to make a living; others are con artists. Here's how to protect yourself.

1. Don't engage

Irene says she should have immediately ordered the salesmen to leave. But she was raised to be polite — one of the reasons she and other older Americans are so often targeted for door-to-door sales. The easiest way to avoid a hard sell: Keep the door closed.

2. Be wary of contract offers

Think spending $4,400 for a vacuum cleaner is bad? Actually, the total cost was more than $8,000. That's because one of the salesmen provided a contract allowing the couple to finance their purchase through a company that he recommended. The terms: No money down, but payments of $112 a month for six years, at 18 percent interest.

Irene, weary from the long sales pitch, admits she "didn't fully understand the terms" when they signed. Always give yourself time to review the offer. Honest salespeople will understand.

3. Act quickly if you have buyer's remorse

If you purchase anything costing $25 or more from a door-to-door salesperson, the Federal Trade Commission's "cooling-off rule" gives you three days to cancel for a full refund. Irene says she waited 11 days before calling the salesman asking that he take back the vacuum. "He refused, saying we waited too long."

He was correct, technically. But that federal mandate also requires sellers to tell you about your cancellation rights at the time of sale. Irene says that the salesman provided the cancellation notices in a sealed envelope, which she didn't open for 10 days. So when she contacted the Better Business Bureau, she was told she was out of luck.

Irene waited three months before telling family members about her "foolish" purchase. One of them notified Scam Alert and we immediately called Lorraine Hebert, president of NorTech Distribution USA, which imports the Vortech Force. Hebert said that the salesmen were independent distributors "who buy the vacuums from us and decide on their selling price." She agreed to contact the Pellousos.

Happy ending, for this couple at least: They were told they could return the vacuum and cancel the financing contract.

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