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July 17, 2008

Trust no one?

No The young man ringing our doorbell looked clean-cut and harmless enough.  Opening the door, I assumed he was one of my son's friends and greeted him with a smile.

“I’m selling magazine subscriptions to help pay for my college tuition,” he began, racing through his spiel and waving a laminated brochure in my face. “Your neighbor Michael told me to stop by. I grew up in this neighborhood,” he added, motioning toward another street, which he named correctly. This kid had done his homework. We do have a neighbor named Michael -- but our Michael would never tell a solicitor to drop by and pitch magazine subscriptions. Smelling a scam, I said no and quickly shut the door.

“The reason you don’t recognize me is because I’ve been away at college,” he shouted as the deadbolt clicked. Yeah, right. I would have believed his fairy-tale had I not fallen for the same trap several years ago when, duh, I wrote a check for two magazine subscriptions to another con artist posing as a student. My check was cashed but I never received the magazines. It didn't help to learn that I wasn't the only sucker mom in the neighborhood who was fooled that time.

I still turn red thinking about it, but I’m older (and a bit wiser) now, so I'm going public with my shame in the hope that others might be spared a similar rip-off.

Despite the “No Soliciting” signs posted at both entrances to our home, all kinds of salespeople ring our doorbells and pound on the front door, often interrupting dinner or a deadline. Some claim they didn’t notice the signs. Others insist they really aren’t “soliciting” but are collecting for a worthy charity or campaigning for God.

Door-to-door soliciting used to be little more than a garden-variety annoyance. But where I live in the Midwest, automotive companies and manufacturers are announcing layoffs or plant closings almost weekly, and our regional economy is sagging. Burglaries are on the rise in our neighborhoods. Meanwhile, local police have traced several break-ins in my neighborhood to thieves posing as door-to-door solicitors.

Regardless, I still find it hard not to answer a knock at my door. (What if it's a delivery person? Or one of the neighborhood kids?)  But as my husband reminds me, solicitors aren’t invited guests, and I have every right to ignore them.

These days, I'm learning to peek through the front window before opening my door to anyone. And, as the police advised our Neighborhood Watch group, I don't judge anyone by appearances. Solicitors often dress professionally to earn confidence -- sometimes carrying official-looking clipboards and bogus permits.

Of course, not all solicitors are con artists, but now I find it hard to trust any stranger who comes to my door. I never used to be like this. I miss the days when I opened my door to everyone, and my welcome mat really meant what it says.

Cindy La Ferle writes about home, family, and the writing life at Cindy La Ferle's Home Office: www.laferle.com

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