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The Boston Globe

Business

Consumer Alert

As door-to-door salesmen make a comeback, consumers beware

Once upon another generation, a visit from a door-to-door salesman held out the possibility of being exposed to a new product. Consumers were less mobile. There was no Internet. Not even infomercials.

It stood to reason that door-to-door sales would become less and less of a thought for consumers today as the opportunities to buy have multiplied. But, based on complaints, questions, and observations of late, this old way of doing business appears to have made a comeback — and not in a good way.

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Not that every salesperson who comes to your door has bad intentions, but this method of sales — whether for vacuum cleaners, alternative energy, home repairs, or even magazines — is a losing proposition for consumers. Simply put, any time a consumer is backed into a corner and has to make a decision at the spur of the moment, the equation has changed and power has been ceded.

Many of these door-to-door visitors are quite persuasive. Whether legitimate or otherwise, they make their money by convincing people to believe their pitch. That could be that they’re selling the best vacuum ever invented or that they’re poor teens down on their luck and are selling magazine subscriptions to support some organization or their own college dreams. Any legitimate salesperson will be willing to leave you information to ponder and provide you a way to contact them. Any who demand an immediate answer should be met with a “No thanks.”

Both state and federal law give consumers an out if you’ve bought something at home that costs more than $25. By midnight on the third business day after signing a contract (with certain exceptions), you can cancel in writing. Apply the same strategy as you would when getting a telephone solicitation: Never respond “yes” and then provide payment information or sign a financial obligation. If you’re interested, ask for a phone number to call. Then get sent more information, and do some research to make an informed decision. Or, to be even safer: Don’t answer the door to someone you don’t know.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka

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