Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Beware the Traveling Salesman

In this modern day, I feel there is no reason why a stranger has to come to my door. If he is selling something, he can do so via phone, e-mail, ad in paper. I have a "No Solicitors" sign, which door-to-door merchants routinely ignore. Generally, then, I ignore them.

Yesterday, when a young man knocked at the door, I told my sons that I wasn't going to answer, and I went into another room. My older son couldn't resist, though--he felt it could be an emergency. So he went to the door and told the person there that I was busy. The man insisted; he instructed my son to tell me that he was from G.E. and he "needed to explain something."

Wondering if this could have something to do with my electricity, I finally went to the door (although Com Ed is my provider). The man had a shirt that said "G.E. Security" and a matching lanyard that was supposed to make him look official. He said we had been "selected" to receive a free home security system. All we had to do was display a yard sign so that when our neighbors asked about it, we would tell them how great it was. He handed me a brochure about the system and then he talked and talked. It seemed to me this wouldn't be the way a company would establish their test market.

He occasionally asked me condescending questions (although he was a good twenty years my junior). "Do you understand?" he said. "Do you get what I'm saying?"

"No," I told him. "Because I haven't figured out yet how you're going to try to make me pay for this."

"No, no. You don't get it," he said, looking cross. And then he launched again into the explanation of why this was totally free, why we'd be fools to pass it up. I tried to give him his brochure back and he wouldn't take it. He used words as a wall that he was putting up against me. "What size door frame do you have? Two-and-a-half inches, or five inches?"

"I don't know."

"I can tell you right now," he said, trying to move past me. "Do you want me to take off my shoes?"

"I don't want you to come in at all," I said. "And I won't make any decision about this until my husband gets home."

This did not send him away. "That's fine, but I'll just explain it all to you," he insisted. And he talked more. How great this was because it was wireless. It would even call the firemen for me while I wasn't home. It would save my dog's life if I weren't there to do it. "Do you just have the one dog?" he asked.

Later I realized that he was asking a lot of personal questions, security-related questions, in his patter. I couldn't imagine that a thief would go to quite this much trouble to case a joint, but I did think that he was an aggressive and terrible salesman.

"I'm going to give this back to you," I told him, shoving the brochure into his hand.
My husband appeared, looking suspicious.

The young man tried to introduce himself. "Are you a solicitor?" my husband asked, pointing at our sign.

"No, sir. I'm not soliciting." He went into a bit of his spiel, but Jeff was tired and having none of it.

"It seems to me like you're a solicitor, and I'd like you to leave my porch," he said.

"May I ask why?" He actually said that! He wanted to stay and talk about his "free" product. He was tenacious. I do not think he was from G.E. I never did quite figure out his agenda, but I found him sinister and suspicious.

And this is why, I told my children later, we do not answer the door to strangers. The fact that we have a door does not give every random guy on the make the right to knock on it and monopolize our time.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?


jwhit said...

wow, what an ass! These guys are on commission, so it's no wonder he was persistent.

We have a competition on electricity and gas and telephone service now, so we can buy the retailing of all three of those from different companies. Those are the people who show up at my door from time to time. They are so brilliant at not answering questions, and the pressure sales tactics of 'one time offer, act now' that I nearly laugh at them when they turn up. They NEVER get inside my house - EVER.

The other ones that bug me are the religion pushers. You gotta wonder what these obviously nice ladies and young people are fed to think anyone would change their beliefs by someone coming unbidden to their house. But I guess, just like the Nigerian email scams, there must be enough people who do that they keep pushing.

We have a Do Not Call register here to do away with many phone marketers. Only legitimate charities and politicians can do it legally now if you've registered your number. Every once in a while some call center breaks the rules, so I try to get info out of them and report them to the authorities. My calls are practically nil now.

What a crazy world we live in.

Picks By Pat said...

Of course, being a mystery writer, my first reaction would be, "Don't open the door! It could be an axe murderer!"

Maybe that's just me, but ya never know...

Julia Buckley said...

I know--I've really tired of all the rhetorical schemes that people use. It's hard to imagine who would fall for them, although this guy was so persistent that I could see how he might succeed sometimes just so people could get him to shut up.

Pat, you are right! I was not pleased when I found my son had answered the door against instructions. He was afraid of being thought rude, ironically.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that most salesmen - especially door-to-door and telephone varieties - have learned how to lie by omission and half-truths. The alarm system probably would be free; he is telling the truth about that. But, what he didn't say was that you would have to pay for the "service" from the monitoring company (mine is $42 a month and I had to sign a five-year contract to get the free system) and that this would require that you have a phone line. I could switch to only a cell phone if I didn't have this alarm.

Another example: over the phone, the cable guy told me I could get all of my favorite channels for $70 a month. Then when someone came by actually to sign me up, it was closer to $90. Then when it was time to pay after the installation...it was over $90 plus tax!

They just don't tell the truth!

Julia Buckley said...

Which is infuriating. Once we called our phone company to complain that our bill had been steadily rising for no apparent reason. They make the statement so hard to read that it's difficult to see what charges are for what service. My husband basically asked "what can you do to reduce our bill?" and the "helper" offered him a different package which was MORE expensive. It was as though they purposely refused to understand the issue.

Customer service has become a misnomer.

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©Hotbutton Press said...

I do hope the prior post was tongue-in-cheek. And, Julia, I probably would have called the police department in your area and asked if they'd had any complaints about the GE Security sales people. You just never know. Are they at least in the phone book? Can't be too careful these days.

Julia Buckley said...

How ironic! A solicitor on my post about soliciting. :0

Yes, I probably should contact the police, although I haven't found them particularly eager to investigate things in the past. (I speak only of the force in MY town).

Cindy Fey said...

Eww. Was anyone watching your back door while the scam artist was distracting you at the front? Sounds like a thief, not a salesguy.

Julia Buckley said...

Cindy, the more I think about him the more sinister he seems. Maybe that's the fiction writer in me. :)

©Hotbutton Press said...

Well, I had to google the company, and they seem to be a real company... the G.E. Security product, however, is sold by private contractors and the "scam" is thtat the system is free for a limited number of entry points... and, of course, you have three times as many vulneralbe spots and must pay for the remainder. Oh, and then there's the little issue of the never-ending monthly monitoring fee which he probably did not mention at all, right?

Sometimes writing as Penny Dreadful

Julia Buckley said...

Aha! He mentioned none of that, but his salesman persona shone through his lie that he was not a salesman. He reminded me of Ryan O'Neal in Paper Moon--except not as good looking, and he wasn't selling Bibles. :)