Practice being skeptical with next door-to-door salesperson

There’s a fine line between lots of things:

  1. Genius and insanity.
  2. Saturday night and Sunday morning.
  3. Love and hate (lyrics by Iron Maiden)

You get the point.

Here’s another that you might benefit from. There should be a thin line between what you believe and what you don’t when it comes to someone selling you anything, from an idea to a car.

For instance, should you pay the dealer prep? Now, don’t get upset if you’re a car salesperson. I’m just not convinced I should pay it. It’s not a scam — just good old-fashioned negotiating, right? Come on, it’s not like we don’t get stereotyped!

The more overt scams are really easy to pick apart — for most of us — but they’re alive and well because of us dumb humans and our sense of gullibility.

The Nigerian princess doesn’t have $36.5 million, of which she is willing to part with 25 percent for your help moving the money into your account. Most of us know that. Amazing enough, not all of us know that.

What about the more subtle cons, lies and other untruths that people hand you? For instance, after a hail storm, there’s the guy who shows up at the door that evening saying he’s in the roofing business but doesn’t have any business cards or, worse, has the generic ones that have a business name and a cell number. Or, or even worse, he has an index card with his phone number written in Crayon. Is that the guy you hire? (The answer is not “no” — not yet anyway.)

Fly-by-night, low-grade scams are everywhere — not so much for the big score, but for a few hundred dollars here and there.

Get in the habit of forming an opinion that you won’t form an opinion until the “seller” does or says something that gives you the evidence of “yes” or “no.”

Be skeptical.

Yep, skepticism is the great equalizer against the con or the shady sale. Silence is awkward when talking to a stranger. I say live on the edge and create that awkward moment, forcing the reaction on the part of the other guy.

I’m not saying everyone pitching something is crooked. You don’t own anything without a salesperson selling it, right? (But I still don’t understand the “dealer prep” charge.) What I am saying is you shouldn’t agree with something just to be polite.

If you don’t understand something, stop, enjoy the awkward silent moment, then scrunch up your eyebrows and say: “Could you explain that again?” Or better, use the dreaded word: “Why?”

A good salesperson has the facts to back it up.

Door-to-door sales is where you practice this new-found skepticism. That does not include the Girl Scouts. Just buy the cookies. You don’t want problems from angry mothers repelling in your window after failing to make the quota on Thin Mints.

Solicitors are the ones offering to sell furniture cleaner that really vaporizes your furniture polish. For that guy, practice the first rule of criminal investigations: Cool sunglasses. After that, practice the second rule of criminal investigations, which is to remain skeptical about what you’re being sold until you believe it to be true. That will most likely weed out the amateurs and leave you with a new-found appreciation for the awkward moment and the word “why.”

Here’s a scenario you can rehearse to get yourself prepared:

  • “Ding-dong”: A guy  rings the doorbell, saying he had an accident and needs to use the phone.
  • You: Stare — not at him but just over his left shoulder — as if you’re listening to the voices telling you what to do. Then blink and offer to make the call while feeding your pit bull. (Use the Schwarzenegger accent for effect.)
  • Ask a question or two: Get the answers and check the reaction. Legit is legit, but use that sense of skepticism from time to time.

Now, someone explain why we have to pay the dealer prep!

34 comments Add your comment

[...] from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Bakersfield Californian on how to handle door-to-door salesmen. Possibly related posts: [...]


August 6th, 2010
3:20 pm

Last September, after the hellish rains that flooded my basement, I was outside working when a middle-aged woman stopped her car next to my side yard (I live on a corner). She had three kids with her, all under the age of four, and was crying as she told me that she was out of gas and was trying to get to her sister’s in LaGrange (I live in Decatur). I gave her enough gas to get to the nearest station and away they went. Fast-forward to this past April, when she showed up again (minus the kids), this time at 11:30 at night, again with the same story. I gave her three bucks (hey, I wanted to go to bed) and she left. Over the next week, however, I saw her again THREE TIMES on different streets in my neighborhood. Needless to say, I called the police on her all three times.


August 6th, 2010
3:44 pm

We treat strangers at our door as if they are all Jehovah’s Witnesses: we hit the floor and sic the miniature Weenie dogs on the door.


August 6th, 2010
3:48 pm

The roofing scam can be made to seem legit. I explained this in detail at, but basically, the storm chaser will leave a door hanger on your door offering a free roof inspection. Fast forward – the scam artist damages your roof during the inspection, takes the insurance check, and you never see him again.

Love child

August 6th, 2010
3:51 pm

So THAT’s why cops always wear sunglasses!!!! Haaaaaaaaa!
As for the “silent treatment”, in the land of the shrinks, this is called the Freudian method. Still works to this day – it’s AMAZING how one will spill one’s guts when faced with a blank stare ….
But Lt., you gotta stop giving away all these trade secrets!!


August 6th, 2010
5:01 pm

Just because someone rings your doorbell doesn’t mean you have to answer the door! I don’t answer the door to people selling things. If they want my business, then they can pay to advertise in the mail or elsewhere!

Billy Graham

August 6th, 2010
8:04 pm

Last time I was front-doored by two Mormon missionaries up off Clairmont Rd years ago…well, when I was done, I’d talked one of them into leaving the church. Bring ‘em on!


August 6th, 2010
8:36 pm

I had just gotten into Pistol shooting competition and was trying on my new pistol belt and holster one afternoon and was wearing it around the house trying to let it loosen up a bit and had the pistol in its holster. I was eating lunch and the doorbell rang and I walked over and there is glass on each side of the door and the guy could see inside my windows. Well when I walked up and hollered through the Glass can I help you and he happened to look down at the holster and belt he proceeded to say Um never mind and couldn’t run off the porch and down my driveway fast enough! LOL! Now mind you I live in a somewhat rural area and on a mountainside so it was a little strange for him to be walking up the hill and street here as there is no sidewalk and there were no cars around. Needless to say I haven’t had a ring at the door bell since that day LOL! It was what I call perfect timing LOL


August 6th, 2010
8:55 pm

Earlier this week, two young guys rang my doorbell several times. My daughter was home, looked out & saw the 2 guys, didn’t see a car and didn’t answer the door. A few minutes later she heard someone trying to rattle and open the back door. She looked down and saw them trying to break into our house. She locked herself in her room & called 911. Fortunately, the police arrived promptly, but the guys must have had a look-out in the neighborhood who warned them the police were coming, so they fled without realizing she was there or taking anything. Gary… wish I had your pistol belt and holder….


August 6th, 2010
11:44 pm

Last year, 8:30 Friday night, pouring rain. Pounding on the door. I have an intercom, I don’t answer my door, I use the intercom. “Can I help you?”. Female voice, screaming in an approximation of hysterical to give her her dog I have in my house. Wha? Instead, I told her to get off my porch or I’m calling the police. Continued screaming. “That’s it, lady, I’m dialing 911.” I had my hand on the phone to dial as I walked to the window to look out. Wow, she’s disappeared. No sign of car. I quickly call the immediate neighbors to warn them. None of them got this experience that night. I suspect a home invasion was averted. Next up, the video camera system for the house. Moral; don’t answer the door.


August 7th, 2010
12:03 am

I have a coworker who lets the religious doorknockers in and then agrees with everything they say. He says it’s the most effective way he’s found yet to get rid of them. :)


August 7th, 2010
1:42 am

Our neighborhood tends to have those magazine and educational materials salespeople come to the door. Even if you don’t buy (which I don’t), I realized that what they do is (to be er…polite) they ask you your name. That way, at the next house, they can say “Yes, I was speaking with Kat, and she said these materials are wonderful…”


August 7th, 2010
5:13 am

It’s “rappelling,” not “repelling.”


August 7th, 2010
5:18 am

Dealer prep? That’s where they take the floor mats out of the trunk and put them in the floors and then apply a huge metal plaque or decal with the dealer’s name on it.


August 7th, 2010
5:19 am

I forgot, if it costs over 40k, a front plate with the dealer’s name on it also.

Old School

August 7th, 2010
7:28 am

A white pickup truck (didn’t have a hemi) loaded with what appeared to be dark dirt, pulled up in my rural driveway not long ago. A young man in a fairly clean white tee-shirt and very clean jeans hopped out and told me they had just repaved a driveway for my neighbor across the road and had all that “asphalt” left over. For a mere $300 they would be glad to put it down as a parking pad for me just to avoid letting it go to waste.

Yeah, right. I smiled, pulled out my cell phone to dial 911. I think they broke a land speed record hauling buggy outta there! Probably the stupidest, most obvious attempt at a scam I’ve seen in years.


August 7th, 2010
7:51 am

Remember the old adage: “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”


August 7th, 2010
8:29 am

The Kirby vacuum salesmen are the WORST! Can I come in and vacuum every inch of your home? Three hours and a hundred “NOs” later they still haven’t even told you the flippin vacuum costs as much as a Prius.

Jean Hays

August 7th, 2010
8:31 am

Funny–I haven’t had a problem. Wonder if it has something to do with the German shepherd and 70-pound lab jumping on the window and barking insanely?

Retired Alive

August 7th, 2010
9:02 am

Re the Nigerian princess

You can’t flim-flam an honest person.

All the other stuff: if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!


August 7th, 2010
9:03 am

You’re better off talking to them through the door. Tell them that whatever they’re selling, be it their view on God or anything else, you’re not interested and tell them to leave. You don’t want some of these guys thinking no one is at home.


August 7th, 2010
9:23 am

I agree with Lori, just because someone rings does not mean you have to answer your door. I have a window in my walkin closet with a view of my front porch. When someone rings during daylight hours I will sometimes answer from my upstairs window. If it’s someone I don’t know, I tell them I’m not interested or to leave whatever printed material they have on the porch. After dark, I don’t answer period!

Wiiliam Casey

August 7th, 2010
3:13 pm

The Kirby guy was a trip. The price started at $1,700. His last offer was $450. No sale. Not illegal but still a scam.


August 7th, 2010
5:11 pm

Now William Casey, you didn’t believe him that a Kirby could do just about everything a wife could do, and I mean EVERYTHING?


August 8th, 2010
12:10 pm

Thanks for the article and all the comments as well. Horrible things can happen if we misapply trust at the wrong moment and a regular reminder keeps that gullibility in check.


August 9th, 2010
9:42 am

Who legitimately runs door to door salesmen these days? At least have the self-respect to run a phone/email scam people!

Whatever you do, don’t buy those magazines sold by teenagers. They’re paramount to indentured servitude by their managers and have been known to come back and rob your house.


August 9th, 2010
1:02 pm

So my partner is at home one afternoon when the doorbell rings. Our boxador immediately starts barking and charges the door. As my partner gets there, she yells “Shut up demon dog!” After looking through the peephole and seeing two somewhat elderly ladies holding bibles, she opens the door. One woman starts her speech with “I know you weren’t expecting us today…” My partner interrupts with, “Oh, but I was! Satan told me you were coming by.” The ladies stammered and left as my girl shut the door laughing. Never came back again.

Cop Supporter

August 10th, 2010
9:54 am

It’s amazing how quick a a couple of religious witnesses will move down the driveway when they see the 75 pound German Shepherd come around the corner of the house :)


August 10th, 2010
1:03 pm

I can attest to the dog-scaring-away-religious-messengers.

Back in 1995 when my mother was home in bed recovering from surgery, two Jehovah’s Witnesses came and knocked on our door. It was an unusually hot day (we had that massive heat wave at the time) so our elderly German Shepherd-Boxer mix, Pete, was inside the house. Normally when someone knocks on the door, if he’s inside with us, he doesn’t bark. But in this particular instance he did. I wasn’t home at the time – was at a friend’s house, but my mom said they hauled buns off of the front porch and back in their car as quick as they could. Didn’t even bother to leave some literature behind.

I get annoyed with them from time to time, especially when they approach me in the grocery store, or while pumping gas, or when I’m walking from a restaurant to my car.


August 10th, 2010
3:24 pm

Never, EVER let someone pave your driveway with “left over” asphalt. These are the biggest scam artists on the earth (and the biggest scum of the earth as well). If you fall for it, it will cost you dearly – that $300 asphalt job will mushroom into a $10,000 bill quicker than greased lightning. If you don’t pay, they file a lien against your house. The proper way to greet these b@stards is with a loaded 12 gauge.

You’ve been warned.


August 11th, 2010
3:19 pm

my favorite was when i lived in an apartment near ksu. i was a college student, but i had my own job to pay all my bills. my (idiot) roommate let in a guy selling those magazine subscriptions. She couldn’t get rid of him, so called me into the living room to ask him to leave. I said, “I’m sorry man but you know it’s hard times for us college kids! We don’t have any money. (opened the door) Thanks for coming by anyway.”

He didn’t leave through the open door, but wondered aloud how I could be such a heartless bitch when mommy and daddy paid for all my bills and I couldn’t even spare $20 for him when he was out here trying to make his own way?

Guess he thought since he was a 6′5” guy and we’re both little women he could bully us into buying a subscription? I forget how I ended up getting that guy out of my apartment, but the front door was never opened again.

Email Ads

August 12th, 2010
6:39 am

I’m totally amazed that the online jobsites will sell their product to ANYONE! I am looking for a job and I keep getting emails from those spam Nigerians or whoever through Careerbuilder, Monster and Yahoojobs. Whenever they say they pay in USD dollars you know they are not from here and it’s a scam. Gee, get some dignity guys!


August 12th, 2010
11:23 am

I gave her enough gas to get to the nearest station and away they went. Fast-forward to this past April, when she showed up again (minus the kids), this time at 11:30 at night, again with the same story. I gave her three bucks (hey, I wanted to go to bed) and she left.

Um, I hate to be a heartless rhymes-with-witch, but you are the problem here.

A firm, polite “NO” while looking them straight in the eyes and leaning towards them slightly works as well as giving the money, lets them know you don’t believe a word of their fake story, and it doesn’t cost you a thing. These people keep doing this crap because suckers give in to them.

It’s just like training a dog: random reinforcement is the best way to keep behaviors occurring. Panhandling is a behavior NO ONE likes, so stop reinforcing it.

Every time some sucker gives in to this extortion, these people get bolder. Please stop feeding the scam artists!

lt steve

August 12th, 2010
8:21 pm

Not repelling?