Elderly complain about door to door vendors

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Late Tuesday evening Nacogdoches Police revoked a permit issued to a company selling security systems door to door. According to police the company was soliciting after hours.   Advocates for the elderly are pleased about the enforcement, but remain disturbed over commonly used sales tactics. The methods aren't against the law, but viewed as ethically wrong. Customers are often left blaming themselves.

A caring friend speaks of her neighbor, Miss Mary, (last name not used to protect identity) a woman who is ever grateful for people who have her best interest at heart. "They came to my rescue," said the kind spoken woman.

Miss Mary signed a 3 year, $1800 contract for a burglar alarm system she knew nothing about. The company took a copy of a voided check with the intention of making automatic withdrawals of $70 a month from her account.

The elderly woman says the charming sales person caught her at a vulnerable moment.  "I was very surprised at myself for letting the man in because I've always said I would never let somebody, a man especially, that I didn't know come into my house."

Advocates for the elderly are receiving numerous complaints about the vendor whose now left town. One customer is an Alzheimer patient. "She couldn't remember the code. She couldn't remember when they came. She couldn't remember when they left," Mary Anne Oglesby, Senior Adult Care Network director said.

Others spoke of how the sales person dropped names to establish credibility.  "One of the things was the mayor had a system. He does not," Oglesby said. There were also reports that the vendor would drop neighbor's names as purchasers when they really weren't. Consistently, younger residents were not approached by vendors.

"It may not be against the law, but it's morally wrong," Oglesby said with concern. "They scared my clients telling them about high crime and making them think they were not safe," Oglesby said with anger.

"The city is obligated to provide permits to vendors," explained Jim Jeffers, Nacogdoches City Manager. "But that doesn't mean we advocate what they do. We highly recommend to residents to get all the information they can before conducting any transaction with a solicitor."

According to Jeffers judicial decisions prevent cities from prohibiting vendors from soliciting. However, there are some ordinances that require all solicitors to conduct business from a fixed location. "That could be a vacant lot, a parking lot or even a hotel room if they have the right permission. Our police chief is currently researching the laws to present to city staff for consideration," Jeffers said.

Any enforcement changes won't help Miss Mary with her current problems. She now has a hole in her wall where an alarm panel was removed. She's also closing her checking account for her protrection.

Neighbors spent lots of time on the phone getting the contract voided and personally supervised an installer as he took out everything he had put in.

The best thing to do when you don't want to buy anything from a door to door solicitor is to close the door or don't open it in the first place. But for some people that's difficult to do.   "Senior adults are very trusting. Some of them are lonely. They'll bring cookies and lemonade to the vendors," Oglesby said.

"I just hate to see door to door people come in and talk people into something when they might not even understand it," Linda Cooper, the concerned neighbor expressed.

The Senior Adult Care Network has launched a program called 'Simply Friends'. Volunteers offer a variety of services, at no charge, to the elderly. They can help with chores, transportation and even solicitors. "We help them to have the best life they can have and not be taken advantage of," Carolyn Sivess, Simply Friends coordinator explained.  The agency can be reached at 559-1234 or through Love In The Name of Christ.

Miss Mary now opens doors to only friends.  "You're a lifesaver for me. I don't know what I would have done without you," said Miss Mary to her watchful neighbor.

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