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Getting roped: door-to-door

Another day, another interruption at the dinner table, from another salesman knocking at my door. Nothing irks me more. It’s amazing what some companies will do for a quick buck. An Angus Reid survey showed 58% of Ontario homeowners felt pressured by a door-to-door salesperson into making a purchase or signing a contract.

Being pressured into a sale is one thing, but what concerns me is the sneaky tactics they’re using. Unfortunately, there’s very little the government has done in this area to protect consumers, so it’s important that we protect ourselves.

Lesson 1: Never sign anything or hand over your info

Without fail, every spring some energy company comes-a-knockin’, to try and get me to switch. But that’s not how they put it. All they ask is to see your utility bill, to supposedly see if you have price protection, or missing out on some benefit, or even worse, claiming to be from your own utility company. “We’re not trying to sell you anything, sir”. “No, of course not!” Seems harmless, but the real reason they want to see your bill, is they’re just looking for an account number. With an account number and a signature, they can easily switch you to their new service. Although my dad has gotten switched without even a signature. Not sure how that happens. But it does.

My poor dad gets roped into this every time. And I end up having to call the company back to bail him out. In case you do, in Canada, if you do change your mind, you can cancel most contracts made with a door-to-door salesman, without reason, provided you do it within 10 days of receiving the contract. Now I say most, as not all door-to-door sales are as simple as switching a service. When it involves equipment, such as in the case of door-to-door water heater contracts, they can have high cancellation fees, some up to $1,000.

Lesson 2: Don’t get duped into fixed-rate contracts

A fixed-rate contract is one that locks you in a for a certain amount of time (i.e. 5 years), to prevent supposed rate hikes (which they sometimes refer to as ‘price freezes’). But what they normally do is charge you much higher rates than you currently pay, in the assumption that rates will go up. In my experience, I’ve yet to see anyone but the utility companies gain from a fixed-rate contract. For example on riterate.ca, at the time of this post, they’re currently selling a 5-year fixed natural gas contract for 18.3 ¢/m3!! In comparison, Enbridge currently charges me 10.73 ¢/m3. So for Rate Rite customers obviously those who get it, lose. When I explained to one door-to-door guy that natural gas prices have fallen and that had I signed up for one his contract 5 years ago, I would have lost big time, of course, he played the recession card. But for anyone who’s invested in or followed natural gas prices, knows the real reason is abundance in supply and that the market for it, crashed well ahead of the big stock market crash. Electricity hasn’t shared the same price drops, but the fixed-year contract rates are still a hefty increase from what we’re currently paying on our hydro bill.

In my experience (and location), I’ve found fixed-rate contracts usually only work to benefit the company, not the consumer. That’s not to say all of them are bad. But never sign one on the spot, at the door. If you’re interested, ask the person for a pamphlet and do your research. And don’t buy into the ‘it’s a time-limited offer’, it’s just a desperate plea to make a sale.

Lesson 3: Never let them past your door

In the past two weeks, I’ve had two people knocking on my door, claiming they were not trying to sell me anything, one wanted to look at my furnace and one for my water meter. Apparently both said they were doing the same across the neighbourhood and it’s for the city. If it was really for the city, you would A. show me some paperwork at the very least and B. Schedule an appointment. The best way to deal with them is just to ignore the door. Why would you knowingly let a stranger into your house?

The real lesson: Never ever buy anything at the door!

A good friend of mine hired a guy who was going door-to-door asking to pave their driveways. And they all say the same thing, “if you get your neighbour to come in with you, we can give you a good deal”. So two get swiped. So my friend had to put down a deposit. I think they asked for 50% upfront and then the other 50% upon completion. So he didn’t hear from him for a week, so he called and he told him he’d be there the next day. A couple of days later he did show up and my friend said he scraped his driveway, but couldn’t finish and would come back tomorrow. Well, you could see where this is going. He didn’t show up, so my friend called and called and no answer. One day his phone just went out of service. So he contacted the city to find out what he could do and apparently the contractor had numerous complaints. He was left with a bare driveway and his deposit was gone. Case in point, always do your research before buying anything.

Look if the salesman is truly selling something interesting, then ask them for a pamphlet. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked that and they don’t have one. How can you go door-to-door, and not even have something to leave your customers? And while most utility companies say to always ask for identification, photo identification really doesn’t mean squat. They’ll flash you their badge as if showing you their own photo ID is going certify who they really are. Unless you’re willing to do a background check at the door, you’re better off avoiding them altogether.

So next time you stop by my house, please don’t knock on my door. Kindly leave a pamphlet on my doorstep and if I’m looking for your type of service, I MAY call you.

What do you think? Is it just me? Are door-to-door sales HUGELY unethical or just a little bit? 🙂

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