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Sequim resident feels scammed by sales pitch

Isabel Senatori says she didn’t need a new vacuum cleaner.

But this December, a door-to-door salesman convinced her otherwise and now the Sequim woman feels she may be the victim of a high-pressure sales pitch that has frustrated consumers in Washington state and across the country.

Senatori, a retired nurse in her 80s, lives in a rural neighborhood just outside Sequim with her husband. At 10 a.m. Dec. 1, while she was still in her morning clothes, she heard the doorbell ring. It was a gentleman selling Kirby vacuum cleaners.

“I said, ‘No, I just bought a new cleaner,’” Senatori recalls, having spent $400 for a new Dyson cleaner just three or four months earlier. “For a second time, I said, ‘I’m not interested.’ I was really quite adamant about saying no.”

When the salesman offered a bottle of spot remover for carpets, Senatori opened the screen door to accept the gift.

That, she says, was her mistake.

The salesman walked into her home — without her inviting him in, Senatori says — and began a two-hour sales pitch for the Kirby vacuum.

“I knew he was scamming me,” Senatori says. But the salesman insisted on seeing her new cleaner, claimed the Dyson model was broken and insisted the couple buy a new one. Near the end of his lengthy pitch, Senatori says, he played a guilt game, saying he could have had a new costumer in the span of their two-hour visit.

“I felt so guilty then,” she says. “I just wanted to get rid of him.”

Finally, Senatori relented. She signed a contract and paid $1,491 for the new cleaner.

“It’s way heavier,” she says of the new cleaner, likely too heavy for her to use on a daily basis.

In the fine print, the contract said Senatori could have called the salesman’s parent company — King Distribution, Inc. of Tukwila — but she didn’t know that until it was too late.

In addition, the salesman told her he’d take her old vacuum cleaner off her hands, a tactic also used by door-to-door salesmen in Eastern Washington in recent years, the state attorney general reported.

While thumbing through a local newspaper after the sale, Senatori noticed a county resident had called the police, claiming a “high-pressure” salesman had harassed her.

Senatori called county law enforcement, who told her they would log the complaint with the attorney general and, with as few as two complaints, they can have the salesman’s license taken away. The county official also gave her information about avoiding similar high-pressure sales pitches and scams.

But since she signed a contract, the county official said, there was nothing they could do in terms of filing charges.

Senatori isn’t alone, particularly among her age group. While consumers nationwide lose billions of dollars each year to fraud, people over age 50 are especially vulnerable and account for more than half of all victims, according to a study by the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons). Retired persons often are targeted because shrewd businesspersons and criminals know seniors have spent a lifetime earning their savings. Their pursuers use everyday tools including the mailbox, telephone, Internet and doorbell.

In addition, according to the state attorney general’s research, seniors are less likely than other consumer age groups to report becoming victims and sometimes they are too afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone they have lost their money.

For more tips for seniors to avoid such fraud, see www.atg.wa.gov/SeniorFraud/default.aspx.

Door-to-door solicitation has become enough of a problem that in the April 2008 newsletter, the city of Sequim reminded residents how to protect themselves from harassing salespersons.

City staffers recommend posting signs that read “No Solicitors” and an additional sign that reads, “No Charitable Solicitors,” to deny door-to-door salespersons.

The newsletter further suggests, “You have the right to post a No Trespassing sign on your property.” But, city staffers warn, these signs do not prohibit religious proselytizing or political canvassing.

If salespersons ignore the signs and continue to knock or ring the doorbell, residents are advised to call either the police or city code enforcement officer.

Senatori says she should have called the police right away when the salesman walked in, but that she wasn’t sure what to do.

She knows what to do now.

“I would call the police,” Senatori says. “I learned my lesson.”

That’s exactly what Maris Turner of the Sequim Police Department recommends when residents get any kind of unwanted visitor.

“You can’t just come into somebody’s home unwelcomed,” Turner says.

She recommends residents not even open the door for those they don’t know, that they consider warning such visitors with a call to the police and work out a script for salespersons they may talk to — either in person or on the telephone.

“That’s hard for people because they think they’re being rude, but it’s OK to be rude; it’s your property,” Turner says.



Box: Feel scammed?

Consumers who want to complain about door-to-door sales or have other consumer issues can contact the state attorney general’s Consumer Resource Center at 800-551-4636 or see the attorney general’s office Web site at www.atg.wa.gov.



Box: ‘Spot a Scam or a Con’

Everyone is vulnerable to scammers and con artists merely by having a computer, a phone or a mailbox. So the best defense is to spot a scam when it’s seen or heard. The unfortunate reality is that schemes and scams are

criminal’s bread and butter and they are successful.

The Sequim Police Department and The National Crime Prevention Council bring you tips to spot a con:

• Do not give out private information over the phone or Internet unless you initiated the contact; it is

illegal for telemarketers to request that information to verify a prize or gift.

• Look closely at offers that come through e-mail or in the mail.

• Be wary of mail or e-mails promising “free” vacations, foreign lotteries, cashier check scams, work at home offers or schemes that ask for your money up front.

• Beware of cheap home repair work that otherwise would be expensive.

• Most importantly, if you receive an offer that seems too good to be true, it probably is a scam or a con.

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