Avoid door-to-door salesmen in the modern world

Dear Watchdog: Last week, a young man came to our door wearing a Reliant Energy ID tag and holding a clipboard. He told us Oncor had placed us on a list that made us eligible for a 7-cent kwh rate with no cancellation fee and free weekends. Clearly this sounded way too good to be true, and we didn’t fall for it. Have you heard of this before? — M.O., Dallas


Dear M.O.: Yes. Door-to-door salesmen for electricity companies are all the rage. Kudos to you for not biting. Oncor doesn’t put people on a price list. He made that up. The clipboard probably held his script about how to steamroll everybody’s grandmother.

When I was a boy the Fuller Brush Man roamed our neighborhood, peddling his brushes and cleaners to moms. He looked tired. His clothes were frayed. He shuffled along. But I don’t think he scammed the neighborhood women with inferior cleaning products.

fuller brush

Today when a door-to-door salesman comes to my door, I turn on my tape recorder and catch him in lies. It’s that simple. I haven’t had an honest salesperson come to my door in a decade.

Check to see if a salesman wears a name tag. For some industries and by some local ordinances, it’s required. A home alarm salesman in Texas, for instance, must wear a state ID badge with his photograph issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Private Security Bureau.

Watchdog Nation advises: Never buy anything from a door-to-door salesman (exceptions made for Girl Scouts, Little Leaguers and high school kids). The Willy Loman-like Fuller Brush Man has been replaced by unsavory folks who lie about electricity rates, sucker people into five-year home alarm contracts and sell magazine subscriptions for periodicals that never arrive.

Don’t buy something you weren’t planning to buy because someone shows up at your front door. In fact, don’t open the door.





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The alarm salesman who rang the wrong doorbell

My doorbell might be the worst one to ring if you’re a slippery salesman who doesn’t play by the rules. Ask the sales guy who pestered me the other day. I bet he wishes he never stopped by.

At first, I talked to him through the glass. I rarely open the door for anyone except the pizza deliveryman. But he was one persistent son of a gun.

He told me he was from an alarm company. I asked which one, and he pointed to the logo on his sleeve — GE Security.

When I finally opened the door, he moved the notebook that he was holding against his chest, revealing his real company logo on his breast pocket — Pinnacle Security. I wrote about Pinnacle selling 60-month contracts previously.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong helps you save money

I told him I already had an alarm system. He said my analog system wasn’t good enough.

“There’s a city ordinance in the works in Tarrant County where they’re going to require everybody to switch over to the new digital system,” he said. “That’s kind of what we’re advertising.”

There’s a lot wrong with that. He confused Fort Worth, where I live, with Tarrant County. Tarrant County doesn’t adopt alarm ordinances. The city does.

But I told him that nothing like what he described was in the works in either the city or the county.

“You can research it online,” he insisted. “I’m telling the truth.”

I told him he wasn’t.

“I promise you!” he said.

No, I repeated. It’s not happening.

“The honest truth,” he said. “I’m not lying.”

But he was wrong.

I asked to see his state license for door-to-door alarm sales.

Instead, he pulled out his company ID card.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong helps you save money.

I told him state law required that he show a license. He didn’t have one with him.

“You’re in violation,” I said.

“You gotta have it right now?” he asked.

Yeah, man.

“I’ve only been at the company for a month,” he said.

I identified myself as The Watchdog columnist at the Star-Telegram. Told him I wrote about his company in October. Seemed as if I knew more about Pinnacle than he did.

I went inside and fetched a copy. Brought it outside. Started reading excerpts aloud.

“Alarm salesmen and installers must carry a pocket card with their photograph issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Private Security Bureau. If they don’t have a card, they are not licensed to work in Texas.”

Hmm, he said. “I didn’t think I was breaking the law.”

He told me he was 23 years old, finishing up college in Arizona. This is a summer job, and he expects to return home in a month with his wife. He wasn’t doing too well in the new job either, he confessed.

No wonder.

Later, I checked with a Fort Worth spokesman, who confirmed that the city is not contemplating forcing burglar alarm users to switch from analog to digital. Why would it?

I looked on the Texas Department of Public Safety website and saw that this salesman did have a license. Perhaps his boss never bothered to give it to him.

Checked also with the agency, which investigates unlicensed alarm salesmen. In this case, I was told, if a complaint were filed, the company would be cited, not the salesman, because management didn’t give him proper credentials.

Looked up the company’s Better Business Bureau rating and saw that Pinnacle has the same F grade it had when I checked in October. But the numbers are worse. In October, there were 800 consumer complaints going back three years. Now there are 1,200.

Checked the Orem, Utah-based company’s record with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, too. In November, the company was fined $6,000 for disobeying state rules. Among the violations cited was “indicating that a replacement or a repair is needed when it is not.”

Called Chris Russell, president of the Fort Worth-based Texas Burglar and Fire Alarm Association, who told me, “It’s very frustrating to hear a story like that because we try to warn homeowners of these types of sales tactics. I guess we haven’t been effective yet to put a stop to it.”

Contacted Pinnacle, where Chief Operating Officer Steve Hafen told me he would contact the Dallas office “to make sure we are not misstating or exaggerating facts.”

He added: “He should have been carrying that license. … There’s no excuse for that. … We’ll follow up with that office to make sure that all the representatives follow the comprehensive code of conduct we have in place.”

As for the salesman, when we said our goodbyes at my front door, I suggested that his best bet was just to boogie on out of my neighborhood. I watched as he stopped knocking on doors, at least on my block.

One down. A zillion more to go.

# # #

After the above Watchdog column first appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a former alarm salesman sent this confessional e-mail to the paper’s comments board:

Burnsengine wrote on 8/6/2010 1:02:19 AM:

When I moved back to D/Fw, I went to work for a major company that sells alarms systems. This kid, though I feel sorry for him, probably has little idea about the law. I didn’t.

This is likely what they trained him to do and say. And, in this working environment today, it was probably the only job he could get. When I left the company (after 6 horrible months), I realized that I too may have been violating the law.
These salesmen are trained to sell. That’s it. They are trained to say whatever it is they have to say to scare, worry, frighten, nag or break you down to make the sale. They are only given a brief summary on what’s legal and what is not at a local seminar. The rookies know very little compared to the veterans.. and the veterans don’t have time to teach anyone. I believed this was purposeful then, and I still do now.

Ignorance is bliss, right? I witnessed lie after lie from my own managers to my customers about their systems OR lack thereof. Leaving this company was one of the best decisions I ever made.

# # #

For Texas alarm customers

— Alarm salesmen and installers must carry a “pocket card” with their photograph issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Private Security Bureau. If they don’t have a card, they are not licensed to work in Texas.

—  To check whether a salesperson or installer is licensed in Texas, visit www.txdps.state.tx.us/psb/individual/individual_search.aspx.
To check whether an alarm company is licensed in Texas, visit www.txdps.state.tx.us/psb/company/company_search.aspx.

—  Texas consumers can complain to the Private Security Bureau at 512-424-7710  or e-mail: privatesecurityboard@txdps.state.tx.us.

—  If you have fallen victim to an unlicensed salesman, complain to the Texas Attorney General at 1-800-621-0508.

—  Alarm system companies in Texas operate under Chapter 1702 of the Occupations Code (the Private Security Act.)

—  Texas customers who have a complaint about a Utah-based alarm sales company may file a complaint with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection Web site at www.consumerprotection.utah.gov. Or call 801-530-6601.


Be cautious about purchasing an alarm system from door-to-door salesmen.

Be wary of offers of free systems. Equipment and installation fees may be free, but don’t forget the monthly monitoring fee.

Check the company’s reputation before signing any contract. Get other bids and compare.

Ask for the company’s security procedures when an alarm sounds so you know how it handles your security.

Learn the length of the contract. Get the shortest possible.

The Federal Trade Commission requires a “cooling off period” of three days in which you can cancel any contract you signed with a salesman who came to your door.

Source: BBB

# # #

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.

Houston’s NewsRadio 740 AM turns to Watchdog Nation for advice

Houston’s NewsRadio 740 AM turns to Watchdog Nation for help dealing with fraudulent door-to-door salesmen. Here’s the report and also copied below:

Dave Lieber on the radio

The big federal push to cover the uninsured is still a couple years away, but con-artists are getting an early start.

By John Labus

April 9, 2010  — They’re preying on the uninformed, getting people to buy health insurance policies that don’t exist. “The days of the Fuller Brush man and the encyclopedia salesman, those are over.”

Consumer advocate Dave Lieber with WatchdogNation.com says even if you have coverage, they’ll try to sell a fake supplemental policy. “The elderly are the easiest; they love it when an older person comes to the door. But they’ll take a 30-year housewife and sell her Obama Care too.”

Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary of Aging Kathy Greenlee says federal authorities are taking special care to warn the elderly about this latest scheme.

“First of all, the federal government is not going door-to-door to sell insurance. There’s no part of health reform that includes door-to-door salesmen… Be very careful with (your) Medicare number, and don’t give it out to people that you don’t have a prior relationship with.”

But Lieber adds that it’s not just the elderly who can fall into this trap. “They’re targeting everybody. And the most well-informed person is still susceptible to the scam that comes to their front door, because the scammers know how to talk to people in a way that just makes you feel at ease.”

Both agree that if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.