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Consumer Alert

Spring brings scams and sales pitches

With spring officially here, it stands to reason that scams of the season are sure to follow.

A door-to-door salesman came up my front steps this week. More than the robins and crocuses, that’s a sure sign of spring. Once upon a time, long before online ordering, a visit from a door-to-door salesman was the way certain business was done. Now, it’s a surefire way to raise red flags.

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It doesn’t really matter what they’re selling. It could be magazines, vacuum cleaners, or even a chance to lower your electric bill. They’re knocking on your door because they want something from you. Whether it’s your money or your identity they’re after, be assured they’re not visiting just to bring good tidings or give away something of value.

The best defense is to either politely send them on their way, take a brochure if you might actually be interested in what they’re pitching, or just don’t answer the door. Requesting more information is a good spot test. Most won’t actually give you anything in writing since they rely on a quick, pressured response.

When you want to buy something, you should be the one to initiate the transaction — not react to someone schooled in persuasion bringing an offer to you. You should be able to think before you buy.

Another area of potential problems is home improvements. As it turns out, some of the less reputable operations will also be the ones who just show up at your home. An example: a crew in a truck that says they have extra asphalt from a job and can redo your driveway on the cheap. Don’t do it.

But this category is more far-reaching than just avoiding door-to-door sales tactics. If you’re planning on hiring someone to work on your home, be sure they are registered with the state’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. The state has a home improvement contractor registry (http://services.oca.state.ma.us/hic/licenseelist.aspx) that consumers can use to be sure they’re using someone who has agreed to play by the rules. And it provides more recourse for anyone who runs into a problem. There are some exceptions to who must register, and plumbers and electricians are separately licensed by the state.

So, go ahead and enjoy spring. Just try to avoid opening your door to trouble. Know who you are doing business with and do it on your terms.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers for two decades. He also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at Consumer News@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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