Q: My neighborhood has had a man trying to sell meat out of his white unmarked van, and is unnerving the area. Does the BBB have any tips on how to handle door-to-door sales people?
A: As we wind down the summer months, the Better Business Bureau usually finds an uptick of door-to-door sales going on in neighborhoods, and cautions consumers to beware of a wide array of warm weather scams in their neighborhoods.
Many door-to-door sales persons will pitch unwanted and often fraudulent solicitations for a variety of products and services. They are run by con artists who move from town to town and state to state, performing poor work, or simply collecting deposits and leaving behind a trail of unhappy consumers. Some popular door-to-door schemes include:
• Asphalt pavers -- They offer cut-rate paving services, claiming they have material left over from another job in the neighborhood. Their work and materials are often substandard and the quality of work is poor.
• Home improvement contractors -- Many door to door contractors are unlicensed, uninsured and unqualified to do the work they offer.
• Roofing and chimney repair contractors -- They may make false claims that major repairs are necessary or that your roof needs replacement.
• Landscapers and cleanup crews -- Scammers knock on doors and send out flyers at this time of year, offering yard maintenance and cleanup services. They may show up once or twice, or simply take a deposit and never return to do the work.
• Magazine sellers -- Students are often unaware they are being duped into selling magazine subscriptions for disreputable operators. In many cases wrong magazines arrive or consumers are overcharged. In other situations, the magazine vendors' boss is simply collecting credit card information for the purpose of committing fraud.
• Alarm systems -- BBBs across the country receive complaints about people selling alarm systems and failing to divulge terms of the contract for alarm system monitoring.
• Meat sellers -- Some sellers will try to sell you meat on the spot and lie about who they represent. Others will take down an order promising grade A meat, and once it's shipped to you the meat is of inferior quality, and at times they may never send the product at all.
Most contractors and sales persons are legitimate. Unfortunately, their reputation can be tarnished by unscrupulous operators who cheat consumers. The good news is that consumers are more than ever researching companies, because of concerns about scams, reliability and quality of work.
Better Business Bureau offers seven tips to get the work done properly and protect against fraudulent operators.
1) Do not make decisions at your front door. If your property requires maintenance or remodeling, BBB recommends researching prospective contractors and sellers at www.bbb.org, to see what other consumers' experiences have been like. Also, do not invite unsolicited salespeople into your home. Better Business Bureau also urges consumers to be even more wary of telephone solicitations for products and services.
2) Ask for identification and information. If someone is selling door to door, request they provide you with proper identification and leave you with material to read about their products and services. Legitimate sellers and contractors will give you the time you need to research their reputation and reliability. Check with your local city regarding the rules of soliciting in your neighborhood. Many times a special license is required for those salespersons going door to door.
3) Watch out for high pressure sales tactics. Avoid sellers who encourage you to sign a contract or put down a deposit right away, claiming that they will offer a special rate, but only if you act immediately.
4) Check all contractors' credentials. Make sure they provide proof of required insurance coverage, licensing and proof of registration. Consumers may verify licenses through the Department of Commerce and Insurance in the state of Tennessee: http://verify.tn.gov/, and for Georgia check the Secretary of State website: http://sos.ga.gov/.
5) Get it all in writing. A contract should contain a description of the project, labor and materials to be used, a start and completion date and payment schedule. Make sure contracts contain any verbal promises in writing. Never pay in advance more than one-third of the contract value.
6) Remember your rights. The Federal Trade Commission's "Cooling-Off Rule" gives you three days to cancel purchases over $25 made at your home or other location that is not the seller's permanent place of business.
7) If you ever feel in danger, call local authorities. If a seller or contractor gets irate and/or difficult with you (for example, does not leave the premise after you have already asked), call the police. It's better to be safe than sorry, and you can help report potential problems that may help others avoid precarious situations in your neighborhood.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.