Watch out for these cold-calling rip-offs
Serena Cowdy explains how to avoid the five worst cold-calling rip-offs.
I thought I'd come across every sort of doorstep salesperson there is; but apparently not. Last week, I found myself facing a rather bizarre hard sell.
In a nutshell, a girl tried to get me to buy (and I quote) a 'transformational' makeover and photo shoot on the doorstep. It would usually cost £500, she explained proudly - but I'd be getting it for the bargain price of £200. Whoopee.
To make her go away, I asked to take a leaflet and think about it. Fat chance. She would only accept immediate, full payment - by cash or cheque - right there on the doorstep.
I said no, politely but firmly, several times. I even explained that my rights were, and how she was breaching them. When she still refused to go away, I shut the door in her face.
It got me thinking about all the other hassling house calls that make me angry. Here are four of them, along with tips on how to avoid being had.
1. We'll write off your debts
Some companies call you out of the blue and offer to help you reclaim your bank charges, or write off your debts.
They are preying on your financial vulnerability, and - in my opinion - should be avoided at all costs. They usually ask for a substantial payment upfront, and very rarely live up to expectations.
If you want to try to get debts written off, this thread on the Consumer Action Group website will help you do it for yourself.
However, if you're struggling with debt your best course of action is to contact a free debt advisory service, like National Debtline.
Read this Q&A discussion to find out more.
2. We have this great investment opportunity...
Another cold calling scam is the share selling perpetrated by 'boiler rooms'. Criminals -posing as reputable stockbrokers - call and try to get you to put money into 'golden' investment opportunities.
Don't touch these outfits with a bargepole. At best, you're likely to end up with shares that are virtually worthless. At worst, you'll hand over the cash and never hear another thing.
To find out more about this, and two more, illegal phone scams, read The top three most dangerous phone scams.
3. You can trust us...
The cold calls I receive most frequently come from companies that I'm supposedly involved with. I seem to get endless calls from my mobile network provider, telling me that I should renew my contract with them.
A friend of mine regularly receives calls, supposedly from Sky, advising him to buy a pricy warranty if he doesn't want to end up with enormous repair bills in the future.
In my experience, these calls are very rarely from companies I'm involved with. In fact, they're from other firms, masquerading as your providers in an attempt to steal their business. That means if you sign up to anything, you could end up paying for two of everything!
If I'm offered a new mobile deal that sounds particularly good, I'll put the phone down and call my provider's free helpline. If they know nothing about it, there's a good chance it's nothing to do with them.
In any event, never commit to anything on the spot. Ask for paperwork to be sent to you so you have time to mull it over.
And remember that as part of the current Distance Selling Regulations, you're entitled to a seven day 'cooling off' period, during which you can cancel your order at any time.
4. We exploit your goodwill
We all know what doorstep salespeople can be like. However, one of the scummiest doorstep scams I've come across in recent years is a little more subtle, and makes money from exploiting people's good natures.
Have you ever had a 'charity bag' pushed through your letterbox? It will usually come in a little packet, asking you to donate your old clothes to a good cause. All you need to do is leave the full bag outside your door.
Unfortunately, many of these outfits go on to sell the clothes and pocket the cash instead. Shocking eh?
Of course, some of these requests are from genuine, reputable charities. So, look for a Registered Charity number. If there isn't one, dump those request bags straight in the bin.
Who calls you and how to stop them
Oh, the irony. In the middle of writing this article, I've just been cold called on my mobile. It was a long, strange number, and the phone was put down as soon as I picked up.
If this happens to you, you can do a bit of detective work by searching for the number at WhoCallsMe. This is a user-supplied database, listing the phone numbers of telemarketers, scammers, and other people you'd really rather avoid.
When I typed my mystery number in, I found comments from various other users saying that they'd been called from that number up to ten times a day. Oh dear. Well, at least I know now, and can have my high-pitched whistle at the ready.
One of the best ways to avoid cold calls it to register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). It is a legal requirement that all organisations (including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties) do not make sales or marketing calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have your consent to do so.
Some unscrupulous cold callers may slip through the net, but registering will almost certainly reduce the number you receive. And ignore anyone calling asking for a payment to complete your TPS registration. This is a scam; the TPS is a free service!
Of course, friends of mine have employed slightly more extreme tactics to get rid of unwelcome house callers - including putting them 'on hold' for half an hour, suddenly preaching about religion and getting their huge hairy dogs to leap up at the front door.
Of course (ahem) I couldn't possibly condone that sort of behaviour...
Do any other house calling tactics make you cross? Leave a comment here and let us know.
Get help from lovemoney.com
If you need a bit of help dodging rip-offs, you've come to the right place.
First, watch this video: Three money mistakes to avoid in 2010
Then, why not have a wander over to Q&A and ask other lovemoney.com members for
hints and tips about what worked best for them?