Telemarketers and door to door solicitors who scheme to defraud the elderly out of their nest egg or steal their identity is a reality, and a reality that is repugnant.
I had a recent experience when I perceived my aging parents had been taken advantage of, and although it was not nearly as financially material or criminally punishable as the fraudulent scams that make front page news, no one likes to see a loved one be taken advantage of to any extent, regardless of their age or mental capacity.
A door-to-door salesman recently solicited my parents to purchase aerial photographs that had been taken of their rural property. He invited himself into their home and offered these photographs to them at over 150 bucks a pop. I’m not an expert on aerial photography and what constitutes a good piece of work or a fair price – and I don’t particularly think it is really relevant to my point. My parents had not asked for this work to be done and actually already had high quality, aerial photographs of their farm and surrounding area framed and hanging in the front room, which they proudly displayed for the salesman.
But this particular organization was one step ahead. The door-to-door salesman they sent out to Mom and Dad’s house to guilt them into a purchase was an elderly gentleman the same age as my parents. He pleaded with to them to purchase the photographs because he said he needed the sales commission from this job to survive.
While I feel for this gentleman and do believe his need for additional income is likely very real – and so did my parents, they bought three of these photos based on this fact alone – what about those who can’t afford such a purchase? Those who perhaps are not in a mental state to realize at that moment that they themselves won’t be able to afford the things they need if they buy these over-priced photographs from this gentleman? Could this really be deemed an ethical business tactic?
It seems to me that this is a less than savory for-profit business practice, first taking advantage of elderly people in need of income to solicit sales in a door-to-door sales campaign and, second, relying on the kindness and charity of the elderly that are solicited to purchase products they didn’t plan on purchasing when someone knocked on their door.
Luckily, some protection from this sales practice is one thing the government has taken steps to provide. The Federal Trade Commission has a ‘cooling off rule.’
The FTC states that if you buy an item in your home or at a location that is not the seller's permanent place of business you may have three days to cancel any purchase of $25 or more.
The Cooling-Off Rule applies to sales at the buyer's home, workplace or dormitory, or at facilities rented by the seller on a temporary or short-term basis, such as hotel or motel rooms, convention centers, fairgrounds and restaurants.
There are some select situations that are exempted from this particular rule, such as services already rendered and items purchased at a mall or craft fair, insurance, certain types of car sales or sales entirely over the phone/by mail; the FTC website makes these exemptions clear. The FTC site also provides detailed information on how to file a consumer complaint.
A critical part of enabling you and your loved ones to take advantage of this consumer protection is to first raise awareness of its existence. Make sure your loved ones know about the Cooling-Off Rule and, if need be, feel comfortable approaching you about any situation where they feel they may have been taken advantage of or feel they have been unduly pressured into making a purchase. And make sure they know to make that phone call to you quickly.
To file a complaint or get more information on how to spot, stop and avoid fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices visit the ftc.gov site or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261).