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Door-to-Door Solicitors-- The Risks and the Rules

Door-to-Door solicitors are more than a nuisance. They are often engaged in illegal activity. What are the rules, and what are the proper responses?

The days of door-to-door solicitors are a thing of the past -- at least as far as opening the door to them.

Back in the day -- actually my parents day -- it was not uncommon for individuals, mostly males, to travel around the country selling things. The Fuller Brush Man immediately comes to mind. We lived in a very rural area, dirt road, farms, a few houses, and a lot of trees -- Black Walnut, Red Oaks, Buckeyes. We were bused 15 miles to school. The nearest market was a good five mile walk. If an individual came around selling something to us, they were usually lost. Occasionally, what we now call a transient, then termed a Bum, passed by looking for odd jobs -- painting, yard work, tree trimming. My mom would feed them on the back porch then send them on their way. Those days are long gone -- by about sixty years.

It is just too dangerous these days to risk that kind of exposure to personal assault merely because you have opened your door to a stranger. Some individuals may feel this is too harsh a treatment for a person just trying to make a living, eking out a meager existence. Others may think it borders on unfounded paranoia. The preface page of my first novel declares "Paranoid But Alive." The novel is based upon fact, and it deals with the 1980's cocaine pipeline snaking its way from South America, through Central America and Mexico, and ending in sunny California -- Los Angeles in fact. It helped earned me a Master's Degree, and it provided me with a heightened sense of alertness.

Fact -- there are bad guys out there who make a business out of doing bad things to good people. On March 22, 2012 in Glendale, police officers arrested four door-to-door solicitors for selling magazines without the proper city-issued permits. One individual was from Fullerton. One individual was from Arkansas. One individual was from Phoenix Lake. Only one of the salesmen was from Los Angeles. He was arrested later that day separate from the first three men. Their ruse was simple. Sell a magazine subscription and sweeten the deal by offering the buyer a chance to win a trip to Italy. Basically, it is the old dangle the bait and wait for the fish to rise MO. Or as Barnum and Bailey stated -- "There's a sucker born every minute." The arrested men stated that people paid in cash, and the magazines would be donated to local hospitals. Whether this turns out to be true or not, I guess time will tell. I also hear Rome is divine this time of year.

Unfortunately, for these four intrepid salesmen, not all the residents of North Glendale were biting that day. An alert citizen called the police. This allowed the Glendale Police Department to also go fishing. They call their secret bait "probable cause," and it gives police the right to further investigate to see if a crime has been or is being committed. Glendale PD's catch for the day is four arrests. One salesman is carrying an illegal butterfly knife. He is arrested for that. One man is on probation for robbery. He also has an outstanding arrest warrant from San Jose. The third man gives police a false name. This is a crime. Actually this is a stupid crime. He is arrested for that. In the police business, it's called "felony stupid." He is also arrested for selling magazines without a permit. The fourth man, arrested later that day, is also nabbed for the permit violation. He is on probation for grand theft. He has two outstanding warrants -- one traffic related and one for failure to appear in court. Other than that -- these gentlemen are apparently outstanding citizens.

Now knowing what you do -- would you open your door to them? And that is exactly the problem. People you do not know are knocking at your door. They are strangers. Common sense dictates you do not expose yourself to unnecessary risk by opening the door. It is just too risky. Unless the product is in front of your eyes, open to inspection, you are not guaranteed the goods being sold to you will even be delivered as promised. More importantly, you do not actually really know who you are dealing with. In particular, what their background is, what their true intentions are, or what their present state of mind might be.

I once hired a "nice" guy in need of money to do some quick yard work. I later learned he had 13 criminal convictions, one for assault with a deadly weapon -- pled down from attempted murder! No more day laborers for me. Is everyone "bad" who comes to your door to sell you something? Of course not. But that's not the point. Exposure to unnecessary risk is the concern. How do you know what the actual risk is until you are exposed to it? You don't. So the million dollar question is: "Are you willing to take a chance with you and your family's safety for the sake of offending or not engaging in a conversation or a transaction with a complete stranger who happens to be a door-to-door salesman?" I know what my answer is.

It makes more sense to stick with traditional methods for purchasing products, and to not expose myself to unnecessary risk, or to tolerate the interruption and the irritation of being bothered at my home by a total stranger selling me something I am not initially interested in to begin with.

A case in point -- AT&T came by my house a couple of Fridays ago, just after 6 p.m. Working in my front yard, I noticed two well-dressed men canvasing the neighborhood. One man held a clipboard, checking it on occasion. The other man seemed to control which residences they door-knocked. They hopped to and skipped away from homes. I checked the street, but did not see their vehicle. They apparently were on foot for several blocks. They door-knocked on a neighbor's residence. An elderly lady, whose husband and son were both away from the house, answered the door. They conversed for awhile, and then the men departed. They stood out front and studied the clipboard. They eventually crossed the street and disappeared out of sight. I went back to work wondering what possessed this lady to open her door? Three houses on the street have been burglarized, two cars broken into, and a young man was murdered just around the corner less than three months ago while. Trust is not working in this area.

Thirty minutes later, my dogs begin barking. I look up to see the two gentlemen standing at my gate.

"Are you Gerald Elekes," the man in control asks.

"No," I respond.

I worked as a PI, and I used many ruses myself to get the information I needed to conduct a successful investigation. Citizens do not have to follow the same rules as policemen do when it comes to information gathering. That leaves a lot of wiggle room. I learned just because someone directs a question to you, there is no requirement to answer, to answer truthfully, or to provide any information whatsoever. Trust me when I say, I nailed dozens of bad people because of another person's "loose lips." I tried to view Control Man's ID. He did wear a name tag, but apparently without a photo. A logo was barely visible.

"Do you know if Gerald Elekes lives here?" was his next question.

I just stared at him as my dogs continued barking. My dogs are very well-trained. If I tell them to stop barking and retreat, they will. I do not. Control Man wants me to commit. I want to hold him off until I can determine who he is, what he wants, and if I want to trust him. Meanwhile, the dogs are doing the tough work.

"Nice dogs," says Clipboard Man as Control Man pokes around. "Our records indicate Gerald Elekes lives here. Do you know if he still lives here?" 

I just stare.

"Who are you?" Control Man stubbornly demands.

"Leave me alone," I state matter-of-fact as I turn, call the Devil Dogs "Out," and we all retreat unsolicited together. Later, I contact AT&T. It's an ordeal to get information, but I persist. I really am offended that AT&T is sending salesmen to my door. They call me trying to get me to upgrade. They send me literature trying to get me to upgrade. Now they are sending salesmen to my home trying to get me to upgrade. Just as I opt out of computer "Cookies," and I am on the "Do Not Call" tele-marketing registry for my land-line and my cell phones, I want to opt out of AT&T's door-to-door salesmen. I'm not sure what AT&T is doing is even legal in L.A. because they are selling a service door-to-door without delivering the service or product immediately. The next step is to write a letter to the City Attorney inquiring about this, but that's another blog. What I do is wade through two customer service representatives, a supervisor, a transfer to marketing -- which results in a return to the main menu, and all the button pushing that this requires to get back to a customer service representative. And then I am conveniently disconnected. Eventually, I get through to the "legal-fraud" department. I finally use the right words on AT&T's computer menu. I discover the first customer service representative misdirects me. She does confirm through her supervisor that salespeople are in the field trying to push upgraded services. She provides me a number assuring me this will take me off the contact list. She lied! It is the "Do Not Call" registry for telemarketers. I'm already on that list -- three times.

Finally, a nice AT&T guy from the Fresno office understands what I want, and he puts me on the "Do Not Contact" list. Mainly, because he understands that a salesman representing AT&T -- a total stranger to me -- with no photo identification, is bothering me at my home. 

When I ask him why they are sending out door-to-door salesmen, he states, "They send out flyers, but people just throw them away." 

Obviously AT&T thinks people are uninformed consumers and has decided to bother people at their homes in order to increase profits. This is exactly why they make fences and lockable gates. Access is everything. Don't think for a moment Home Invasion robberies do not occur. They happen more often than you think. Individuals sometimes dress as a delivery person, or even pose as meter readers. So do we live life in fear? No. However, it is essential to properly identify individuals accessing your property or attempting to make personal contact with you. It is extremely important to determine if they are legitimate and conducting proper business prior to allowing them access to your person or to your home.

How can that be accomplished? If you feel uneasy or mistrustful, a simple phone call to the business the person is representing can satisfy the identity requirement. If the person is truly legitimate and genuinely conducting business, they will not mind the wait. They do get paid by the hour. When unsure of a situation, it is best to defer to your instincts. Why are you unsure? Pay attention to the warning bells. Just because someone knocks on your door doesn't mean you are required to open it. If the matter at hand is really important, the individual will leave a card or a notice. Burglars often "recon" by door-knocking. So what to do? Do you not respond to the door-knock, and risk a break-in while you are present. Or do you respond, and let the individual know someone is at home? That's a true dilemma. And that's why they make fences and lockable gates, breed guard dogs, and manufacture guns. However, not everyone can take advantage of the above three solutions, nor do they want to. What's the solution?

Often police suggest, letting the person knocking know someone is present. However, they do not recommend opening the door to strangers. If the individual gets aggressive, or attempts to gain unlawful entry, calling 911 and retreating to a "Safe Room" is a reasonable course of action. However, a Safe Room requires a lockable door so that it provides some measure of security until police arrive. And be aware that a digitally operated phone may not operate if the electrical power is disconnected. A cell phone or an old fashioned analog type phone will still provide 911 access if the electrical power is cut. A cell phone will also provide 911 service if the phone line is cut, a digital or analog phone will not. Unfortunately, response times to calls for emergency police service are currently debatable. It all depends upon where the patrol unit is responding from and the traffic conditions; how many officers are deployed as patrol units during the shift; how many calls for emergency service there are at the time, as well as the severity of the incident being reported. 

For example, an officer-involved "shooting in progress" call will take precedent over a "theft from vehicle" call. A "suspicious person" call will be answered more slowly than a 459-burglary, "Hot Prowl" call. The "Hot Prowl' upgrades the priority of the call to Code 3  -- lights and sire n-- because a burglar is inside a residence while residents are also present, thereby increasing the danger. Chief Beck stated in October 2011 that response time to 911 calls would increase because of the release of inmates from state prisons. He expects 4,000 parolees to hit L.A. over the next three years. Forced to reassign 150 patrol officers to deal with the influx, Chief Beck believes 911 service will be negatively affected. Unless luck is on your side, I'd estimate 5-10 minutes is the wait time for a patrol unit to show up to an emergency. Whatever the outcome actually is please remember this one very important point -- help is not there...it is on it's way. Are you actually willing to risk your safety just to acknowledge and patronize a door-to-door salesman?

Under the Los Angeles Municipal Code, Chapter IV, "Public Welfare," Article 1 "Disorderly Conduct Places And Publications," the rules become clear. Under Section 41.43.1, "Door To Door Selling Or Soliciting" the LAMC Code specifically states: No person shall solicit, sell or offer to sell, demonstrate or take order for goods, wares, or any form of merchandise, by entering upon the premises of another for such purpose except in compliance with the provisions of this section. (a)"Solicitation." As used in this section, shall mean to sell or offer to sell, demonstrate or take order for goods, wares, or any form of merchandise or services. (b) No person shall enter the premise of another for the purpose of solicitation between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. of the following day. (c) Any person over the age of 16 who engages in door-to-door solicitations shall carry a form of photo identification and must present such photo identification upon request of any persons being solicited, any peace officer or other person charged with the enforcement of the laws pertaining to such solicitations. The photo identification must include the person's date of birth and be issued by a governmental agency or educational institution. Acceptable identification includes a state driver's license, state identification card, school identification card, or any government issued identification card. (d) Any person engaged in door-to-door solicitation shall present the original or a copy of the Business Tax Registration Certificate required under Los Angeles Municipal Code 21.06 upon the request of anyone being solicited, any peace officer, or other person charged with enforcement of the laws pertaining to such solicitations. (e) The provisions of this section shall not apply to vendors or solicitors who have previously been invited or requested to appear at such premises by the owner or lawful occupant thereof, or to persons making charitable solicitations in accordance with Article 4 of Chapter IV of the Los Angeles Municipal Code. With regard to door-to-door salesmen soliciting magazine subscriptions and other personal property, Article 2, "Soliciting-- Sales" Section 42.19, "Magazine Subscriptions -- Sales for Future Delivery -- Where Solicitation Prohibited" covers this.  It specifically states: (a) No person shall, on any public street, sidewalk or parkway, in this city, or in any doorway or entrance way immediately abutting thereon, solicit the sale or subscription to any magazine, periodical or other publication, or the sale of any tangible personal property for delivery at subsequent time.

In summary, LAMC permits some forms of door-to-door solicitation as long as certain guidelines are followed. The main guidelines are the possession of a proper photo ID, possession of a valid business tax license, adhering to the correct hours for sales, and presenting the photo ID and tax license when requested. No magazine sales or subscriptions, or the sale of tangible personal property, slated for future delivery are permitted. Philanthropic door-to-door solicitations are permitted. However, several guidelines must be adhered to. A "Notice of Intention" must be filed with the department -- which in this case means the LAPD. An Information Card is issued by LAPD, and it must be displayed and/or presented for examination when requested by the person being solicited from. Door-to-Door solicitation is prohibited between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. For children under 16, the hours extend from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. No child under the age of 10 shall solicit without a responsible party present 18 years or older.

The decision whether to open your door to strangers and to support door-to-door solicitors is ultimately a personal one. The information provided should give you an indication when it is appropriate to contact the police, or if you even want to. Obviously dialing 911 because a door-to-door solicitor is standing on your door step is extreme without gathering more information. However, a call to your local Senior Lead Officer for a friendly "Heads-Up" regarding a door-to-door salesperson working the area might be perfectly appropriate. In the end, the police cannot be everywhere, so the alert and the informed citizen can be the "eyes and ears" that may break-up an active burglary ring. I for one have a high fence, a locked gate, and three barking dogs. I am not opening the door for anyone but an identifiable police officer or a fireman with a big, red truck. I order magazines online. I can always get a vacuum cleaner at Target. And my philanthropic endeavors do not involve a stranger knocking on my door asking for a kindly contribution to help save the world.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Leni Park April 05, 2013 at 05:15 AM
Hi Gerald, when a stranger knocks at my door, I don't open the door but I sure make a lot of noise inside so it'll seems as if there are multiple people inside the house. (I turn the radio on in different rooms to different stations, play the tv loudly, etc)
VictimOfSystem April 05, 2013 at 05:40 AM
They like to "go fishing" when you call them and then the only person charged with a crime is the person who called.....and not for what they called about. That's why now when I call about the flood of people going through my blue container on trash night I refuse to give my name for contact.....I don't need THAT KIND of hassle and destruction of a perfect record again.
UNKNOWN SINGER April 30, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Private Property! NO TRESPASSING signs are available at the Home Depot...
Neil Saxon July 19, 2013 at 07:24 PM
I employ "canvassers" to set appointments for my home improvement business. It is very effective. Yes I have a permit. Sorry for the inconvenience, but I must eat too. The people who use us love us.
Gerald Elekes August 03, 2013 at 11:57 AM
Good-- apparently, you are following all the rules. No one is denying you a living. Merely supplying facts for the unaware and the vulnerable. Does education bother you? Under the Los Angeles Municipal Code, Chapter IV, "Public Welfare," Article 1 "Disorderly Conduct Places And Publications," the rules become clear. Under Section 41.43.1, "Door To Door Selling Or Soliciting" the LAMC Code specifically states: No person shall solicit, sell or offer to sell, demonstrate or take order for goods, wares, or any form of merchandise, by entering upon the premises of another for such purpose except in compliance with the provisions of this section. (a)"Solicitation." As used in this section, shall mean to sell or offer to sell, demonstrate or take order for goods, wares, or any form of merchandise or services. (b) No person shall enter the premise of another for the purpose of solicitation between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. of the following day. (c) Any person over the age of 16 who engages in door-to-door solicitations shall carry a form of photo identification and must present such photo identification upon request of any persons being solicited, any peace officer or other person charged with the enforcement of the laws pertaining to such solicitations. The photo identification must include the person's date of birth and be issued by a governmental agency or educational institution. Acceptable identification includes a state driver's license, state identification card, school identification card, or any government issued identification card. (d) Any person engaged in door-to-door solicitation shall present the original or a copy of the Business Tax Registration Certificate required under Los Angeles Municipal Code 21.06 upon the request of anyone being solicited, any peace officer, or other person charged with enforcement of the laws pertaining to such solicitations. (e) The provisions of this section shall not apply to vendors or solicitors who have previously been invited or requested to appear at such premises by the owner or lawful occupant thereof, or to persons making charitable solicitations in accordance with Article 4 of Chapter IV of the Los Angeles Municipal Code. In summary, LAMC permits some forms of door-to-door solicitation as long as certain guidelines are followed. The main guidelines are the possession of a proper photo ID, possession of a valid business tax license, adhering to the correct hours for sales, and presenting the photo ID and tax license when requested. No magazine sales or subscriptions, or the sale of tangible personal property, slated for future delivery are permitted.

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