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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Protecting yourself from door-to-door sales scams

We occasionally get calls in our office complaining about door-to-door sales scams.  These scams are limited only by the imagination of the scammer.  A very common scam involves asphalting or sealcoating pavement.  The scammers will show up at your door and say that they have leftover material from another job and want to sell it at a low price - but they need to do it now.  They dump inferior product (or sometimes just waste oil), take your money, and leave.

There are some important things you should know about this issue.

First, know who you are dealing with.  Is this a business with a local address?  Do they have business cards, brochures, or other normal business documents?  Does the address on their documents match the state of issue for their license plates?  Do they have a local phone number?

Iowa law requires merchants from outside the state who come in to sell goods and services to register with the Secretary of State.  If you suspect the person is a scammer - ask to see his transient merchant license.  If they don't have one call your local law enforcement agency to report it.

Second, know your rights.  Door to door sales require the merchant to provide you with a three day right of rescission.  That means you get to break the contract with no penalty for three days.  If the asphalt contractor wants you to sign an agreement which doesn't have a rescission notice in it - it is a scam.  Don't sign!

Third, get it in writing.  A reputable contractor will specify in writing the work he will do and the price it will cost.  Many disputes and scams can be avoided by this simple requirement.  It is tempting to think at the beginning of an agreement that everything will work out fine and you can trust the other person.  The easiest person to trust is the one who puts it all on paper ahead of time.

There are criminal penalties for failing to have a transient merchant license, but all too often, law enforcement finds out about these door-to-door scams too late.  This summer the Muscatine County Sheriff's Department spent a great deal of time chasing suspected scammers.  If you think that someone is breaking the law please contact law enforcement right away.   We can't be everywhere at once - we need the public to help us.