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Beware of strong-armed sales tactics

Most telemarketers do good work. They work hard for reputable companies. They connect people with services they need, gather valuable information and provide their companies with a growing customer base.

But, as in any profession, there are some that bend the rules - and even a few that break them clean off.

Senior citizens have been the prey of strong-armed telemarketing tactics in recent months - so much so that it prompted the Minnesota Attorney General's Office to issue two consumer warnings. One is entitled "Beware of Door-To-Door Sales and Telemarketers that Target Seniors" and the other one was "Beware of Door-to-Door Security Alarm Sales."

Among other things, the attorney general gives senior citizens this advice when it comes to unsolicited door-to-door callers and telemarketers:

• Don't be swayed by unknown callers that try to scare you. For example, a company may try to sell you an alarm by talking about a rash of burglaries in your city or may try to sell you a medical safety product by talking about medical errors in hospitals or what would happen if you fell and couldn't get up. While many people have legitimate medical and personal safety concerns as they age, the best way to deal with these concerns is to seek out reputable companies that offer meaningful products at a fair price.

• Just hang up or shut the door. Many people want to be "Minnesota Nice" and not hang up or shut the door on unknown callers. Pushy salespeople try to use your good manners against you in order to talk their way into your home or get you to give out your banking information on the phone. It is not rude or impolite to firmly tell salespeople you are not interested and then hang up the phone or shut the door.

• Don't let strangers in your home. Door-to-door salespeople may try to talk their way inside your home by misrepresenting their identity or the nature of their business. It is never a good idea to let strangers in your home. Some aggressive salespeople may simply refuse to leave your home until you buy their product. It is much easier - and safer - to say "no" on the doorstep, rather than try to get the salesperson to leave your home once inside.

• Know your rights. Under Minnesota's Personal Solicitation of Sales Act, salespeople who make "cold calls" at the doorsteps of Minnesota residents must clearly and expressly disclose: (1) their name, (2) the name of the business they represent, (3) the goods or services they wish to sell, (4) that they wish to sell those goods, and (5) they must show you identification with the sales agent's name and the name of the business represented - before asking you any questions or making any other statements. In addition, under Minnesota's Right to Cancel law, you only have three days to cancel most telephone and door-to-door sales involving personal goods or services. If you bought something from a door-to-door salesperson or telemarketer and have second thoughts, act immediately to cancel the contract. If you don't cancel within three days, you may be locked into a costly and unwanted purchase.

• Read the fine print. Never sign anything unless you have read it, and never give out your banking information to strangers. If anyone asks you to sign a contract, don't do so unless you have read it over. If you need more time, ask them to leave the contract behind, and consider reviewing it with a trusted family member, friend, or neighbor. If the seller won't give you time to review the purchase with a trusted advisor, consider that to be a big red flag. Don't sign any contract if the oral promises made by the salesperson are not backed up in writing.

Once again, not every call you get from a telemarketer is a scam and not every door-to-door salesman is a con artist. But there are warning signs to watch for, tactics to recognize and too-good-to-be-true deals to turn down.

This editorial was written by the Alexandria Echo Press.