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Door to Door Scams: What to Do When a Stranger Comes Knocking

Updated on July 23, 2012
Most people don't look threatening when they come to your door so use common sense.
Most people don't look threatening when they come to your door so use common sense. | Source

A man comes to your door. He's wearing a shirt from a well-known company but something doesn't feel right. Maybe he's offering you something that's too good to be true, maybe he's asking to enter your home under a strange pretense, and maybe he just sets off your inner alarm. Whatever the reason, if someone doesn't feel right you need to heed your instincts. It's true, the visitor could be legitimate, but it's also true that he could be attempting a door to door scam, a property crime, or a crime of violence. It's unfortunate but, these days, you can never be too careful.

There are some obvious red flags to watch for when dealing with door to door sales people.
There are some obvious red flags to watch for when dealing with door to door sales people. | Source

Door to Door Scams

Summer and early fall are peak times for door-to-door solicitations and also prime time for door-to-door scams. Not all salespeople are bad but there are a few things to look for in order to keep yourself safe.

  1. If a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is. This is common sense but, in this rough economy, it is often tempting to jump at a supposed low-ball deal. Resist the urge and save yourself from future troubles.
  2. Beware if a sales person is overly aggressive and imploring you to start immediately. My favorite version of this is the old "today is the last day I can offer this deal" ploy. If they are pressuring you to not take any time to think about a purchase, that's a red flag.
  3. If there is no written bid or contract, walk away. They may tell you that they are a small business and don't have the staff to handle the paperwork. They may even offer that they are trustworthy, Christian folk. Look, I'm going to be honest on this. I'm a Christian but I don't use that fact to negotiate business deals. If a person is weilding their faith like it's some sort of weapon, there's something wrong, there. Most people who bring it up all of the time are trying to hide something.
  4. If your inner alarm goes off--heed it. Your sixth sense is there for a reason. Maybe it's your sub-conscious picking up on mannerisms, maybe it's something else, but I know, for sure, I have never been wrong when my inner alarm goes off.
  5. If they are not listed in the phone book, have no physical address and you are unable to reach an actual human being when you call a local number, do some further research. If the business is legitimate, they will have no problem providing references or allowing you to check them out before coming to an agreement.

Don't be caught by surprise when a stranger comes knocking at your door.
Don't be caught by surprise when a stranger comes knocking at your door. | Source

Common Door to Door Scams in the News

Seniors are always a major target of scammers but everybody is a potential mark. According to the AARP (American Association for Retired People) and the Better Business Bureau, there are a few favorite scams that these people will employ.

  1. Power company imposters. These people claim to be from your electric or gas company and will offer to give you a free home energy audit. Does that sound useful? Don't fall for it. Your power company will not send people to your home unannounced. There are these lovely inventions called phones and power companies are well acquainted with them. They will ask to enter your home but auditing your energy use is not their goal. These people are looking to burglarize you. Often working in pairs, one will distract you while the other steals from you.
  2. Fundraising scams. If you live in a town with teenagers in it you can count on being approached to support schools, teams or clubs by donating directly or by purchasing magazines, wrapping paper or cookie dough. Many of these fundraisers are legitimate but they are easily checked on. Call the school or look on the internet. If it's legit, the kids can come back later to collect or you can mail in your donation. "Beware of charities you have never heard of, especially those claiming to raise money for wounded vets, police and fire departments, sick or handicapped kids, or the victims of a recent disaster," warns the AARP. "Those causes are emotional hot buttons for many but are often associated with fake charities."
  3. The handyman scam. These people come to your door claiming to be able to do whatever you need. Roofing, siding, tree trimming, anything you require they claim to be able to do it. They may claim to work for Home Depot or Lowes. If they do, great. You can check it out easily. Make sure you can trust a person before allowing them to work on your home.
  4. Driveway sealer scam. "Hi, there. We're in the neighborhood and have some left over materials and would love to seal your driveway for a low ball price. All we need is for you to pay us up front and we'll get to work right away." According to the BBB, at best you're out some money. In the worst case, they slather on something like motor oil all over your driveway and you're not only out money but you have a big mess to clean as well.

Two of my boxers. Warm, loving, and protective.
Two of my boxers. Warm, loving, and protective. | Source

My Personal Experience with Suspicious Strangers at My Door

I have personally been a target for shady door to door activity. As a stay-at-home mother, I am home alone with the kids every day. When they were very young, a man wearing a cable company shirt came knocking at my door. He informed me that he had detected a cable leak and needed to come into my home to determine the problem. This man had a badge identifying him as a cable employee and looked correct but I did not see a truck. For some reason, my inner alarm went off. I told him I would not let him in my home and that I have never heard of something as absurd as a "cable leak".

We own boxers. My boxer, Sophie, was a good-natured, warm, and exhuberant dog who enjoyed meeting people and dogs. She also had an uncanny gift for detecting danger. Throughout this brief conversation, Sophie had naturally taken her defensive position, placing herself between me and the stranger at an angle and without making eye contact. When I noticed her position, I knew it wasn't just me being silly. "Leave me your card," I said. "I'll call the cable company and if they say this is a legitimate issue, I'll comply, but you are not getting in my house right now." The man insisted, more aggressively that he be let into my house and made a move to step inside. My beautiful, warm, friendly dog turned on him and in full boxer stance, growled deeply. He stepped back, wished me a good day and left. My heart was beating a mile a minute.

I immediately called my husband. I had gotten the man's name from the badge and relayed it to him. My husband called the cable company. The cable company verified that there is indeed such a thing as a cable leak but an employee can fix that outside of the home and shouldn't be requesting entrance to your house. We were informed that if an employee should ever need to come into our home, an appointment would be set. They also verified the employee but said he should not have been working in my area. We were left with the impression that this employee would be losing their job over the incident. The cable company was very serious about the professionalism of their employees and the safety of their customers.

I'm not certain what that man's intentions were and, quite frankly, I'm glad I wasn't put in a situation to find out. I am glad that I didn't blindly trust a man in a company shirt and heeded my inner warnings. When dealing with strangers that come knocking at your door, you can never be too careful.

Have you ever been approached by a door to door scammer?

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Final Tips to Avoid Being Scammed

The Better Business Bureau offers some great tips to avoid being scammed.

  1. Don't let the stranger into your house. Isn't that what our mothers told us so very long ago? "While there are legitimate salespeople that still make door-to-door visits, consumers should be very cautious by not allowing any unexpected guests into their home," warns the BBB.
  2. Pay attention and listen carefully to what they say. Get everything in writing and verify that what they are saying is true.
  3. Don't be pressured into anything. If someone is putting on the pressure, they are trying to rob you of the opportunity to think it through. Why would you give someone that advantage?

For more information on how to avoid being scammed or how to report a scam, contact your local Better Business Bureau. If you have been scammed, call the company, cancel your order and report it to the authorities immediately. You don't want the same thing to happen to somebody else.

Citations:

Kirchheimer, Sid. "Knock, Knock. Who's Really There." AARP. AARP, August 30, 2010. Web. 23 Jul 2012.

Better Business Bureau. BBB, 2012. Web. 23 Jul 2012. http://www.bbb.org/us/.

┬ęDenise Mai, July 23, 2012. All rights reserved.

Follow me on Twitter! @denise_mai´╗┐



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    • profile image

      Unclearchie 2 years ago

      I remember one day just pulling in my moms driveway and i see a black man shaking my moms hand saying he washes rugs carpits and he can do the whole living room for free . my mom was like shure ! Im like mom its a scam i told the guy to have a nice day . i startwd arcuing wirh my mom wgy did you trust that guy? I also do door to door but i never get so clise to the door to shake their hand ! Thats a no no . i knock or ring the bell then walk away at least 15 feet ! This way the person will feel a lot safer . but there is good people out there who do door to door knocking that meen well . but in todays workd you cant trust anyone :(

    • CriticalMessage profile image

      Murphy 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      The only door to door salesmen that I see are those representing the Mormon Church, and those little homeless little kids with the giant boxes of Jumbo M&M's (Peanut ones too) that their parents managed to steal away from a Walmart shelf without getting caught... Neither are out of my capability of managing respectfully... Great thoughts shared in a great hub here... I do notice that the frequency of such 'visits' have a dramatic difference between urban and rural locations... I sometimes miss living in the country... This gets my rarely shared (to increase the value of my meaning) Up Vote!

    • denisemai profile image
      Author

      Denise Mai 5 years ago from Idaho

      Thank you ever so much for sharing and the positive feedback. It's the support of fellow authors that keeps me going. It's so interesting that you have the same problem, too. Not entertaining them is good advice.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very useful tips. Yes out here we too have these people coming in knocking. Personally I don't entertain them since we have a lot of distrustful looking characters knocking most of the time.

      Voted up, useful and sharing.

    • ThePracticalMommy profile image

      Marissa 5 years ago from United States

      Great tips! I once had a man come to my door from the 'gas company'. It was right after my daughter was born and I was recovering from a c-section. It took me forever to get to the door, so he kept knocking as loudly as he could. When I finally got there, infant on my shoulder, he was rude with me but told me about blah blah blah. I told him I wasn't interested and went to close the door, he actually stuck his foot in the door and said he needed to come in. I went crazy like a mother bear on him, yelling so all of my neighbors could hear. Needless to say he went running from the porch...

      It is scary. It helps to be prepared for such a situation. I like that your dogs were there with you (mine was out in the yard at the time). These are great tips!

    • denisemai profile image
      Author

      Denise Mai 5 years ago from Idaho

      Thanks, Pamela! Looking to see who is there before opening the door is fantastic advice.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

      This hub serves as a great reminder of the fact that there is more crime and more scammers in our neighborhoods. I always look to see who is at the door before opening it and if they look suspicious at all, I don't open it. Excellent topic and well written hub.

    • denisemai profile image
      Author

      Denise Mai 5 years ago from Idaho

      Being sure of yourself is definitely a way to avoid the scams. Unfortunately, you're right TRE, senior citizens are often their victims. Thanks for reading Author Cheryl and theraggededge!

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev 5 years ago from Wales

      Our little house is right on the street, no front yard, and we are bombarded with people selling things, flyers, charities, religious zealots - the lot! We even have gypsies with their lucky heather. I say no to everything and shut the door. I've never felt threatened - thank goodness. It's elderly people who get taken in, especially with that old 'we tried to deliver a parcel, please ring this number' scam.

      Good advice, Denisemai.

    • Author Cheryl profile image

      Cheryl A Whitsett 5 years ago from Jacksonville, Fl

      My husband travels a lot leaving me home and we do not have a dog. I never answer the door ever. I look outside to see who it is and if its any man other than the UPS driver or Fed ex delivering something, I never even open the door. Now when I lived in Fort Lauderdale we did have guys come and do our driveway but it was legitimate. They had left over materials which were paving materials, they did do it cheaply but it was done correctly.

    • denisemai profile image
      Author

      Denise Mai 5 years ago from Idaho

      It's sad but true, SJ. Thanks for stopping by!

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 5 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very practical hub on how to deal with potential scam artists. Thanks for sharing your personal experience as well. Unfortunately in this world we live in we can't be be trusting.

    • denisemai profile image
      Author

      Denise Mai 5 years ago from Idaho

      Chrissie--dogs are great, aren't they. Wonderful companions and protection. Wilderness--there are legit service providers but it's always best to be on the alert. Thanks for reading!

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Good advice here. I've been hit a couple of times to blacktop my gravel driveway and it's always just as you say - extra material they will put down right now - as phony as it can get. I also get a barrage of lawn care people in the spring, but think they're usually legit.

    • chrissieklinger profile image

      chrissieklinger 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Dogs are great to have around when someone comes knocking at your door. I always answer and hold them by their collar at the door. Even if they don't attack, they still distract and give you time to get away. We live in a scary world!