BBB: Beware of pushy salespeople

The harder door-to-door salespeople push you to buy their products, the better idea it is to firmly but politely say no — and call 911 to report them if they refuse to leave.

That’s advice from the Better Business Bureau of Cincinnati, following indictments and a state lawsuit against US Beef Cincinnati LLC, a company that sold meat from the backs of trucks in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

Records obtained from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, which last month sued US Beef in Butler County Common Pleas Court, show the company’s salespeople pressured people — particularly the elderly — into buying beef, other meats and seafood, even when the people were reluctant.

Many ended up disappointed, some saying they received less meat than was promised, low-quality products, and meat that seemed to have been thawed and refrozen, according to court documents. Others complained about over-charges on their credit cards — or duplicate charges many months after the only purchase they made. Many complained the company did not stand behind its guarantee to return money when they weren’t satisfied. Some, including an Independence, Ky., woman, reported becoming ill from the meat.

A Northridge man who told a salesman he didn’t have room for so much meat was promised a brand-new freezer, his daughter told the attorney general’s office. Instead, he was given a used, dented one that stopped working and left him with spoiled meat, the daughter said.

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BBB of Cincinnati spokeswoman Sandra Guile and Leslie Kish, the organization’s vice president of operations, note pressure sales include when salesmen pressure their way into your home, which itself is a form of bullying.

“If they are truly feeling intimidated, or if there is a sense of fear, or they’re being bullied, and they’re being requested information that they’re just not comfortable giving, tell them to leave immediately or you’re going to call authorities,” Guile recommends.

Journal-News interviews with older buyers or their family members reveal customers often felt pressured by US Beef salespeople, and sometimes had trouble getting them to leave their homes. Kish said the elderly are especially susceptible because they were raised to be polite.

“Those schemers know that people of that generation were raised with manners, and that you listen to people, and you treat them with respect, and that people are trustworthy,” Kish said. “Schemers know that, and they do go out of their way to take advantage of it.”

“It’s not being rude,” Kish assures anyone who feels uncomfortable asking someone to leave. “It’s your time, it’s your home. You don’t have to welcome, or entertain, anybody who comes and knocks at your door. You’re the customer, and if you’re not interested in what they’re peddling, just say, ‘I’m not interested. Please leave.’”

Guile suggests calling police to find out whether soliciting is allowed in your area, and giving police a description of the people and the vehicles they are driving, if possible.

“If they’re not supposed to be soliciting in your area, law enforcement will find them, and they’ll find out for sure,” she said.

Two Families’ Stories

“My dad is 80 years old and he lives in a trailer park,” said Debbie Koerner of Vero Beach, who was in town visiting her father this summer when he was in the hospital. “Right at the front entrance it says, ‘no solicitors allowed.’ So they’re actually not even allowed in the park.”

That didn’t stop the salesman from selling, or her father from paying $1,000 in cash, she said.

The salesman said “he had a delivery at another place that day, like one of our VFWs or (American) Legions, or something, and they actually didn’t have room for the meat, and he would give my Dad a really good deal,” said Koerner, one of more than a dozen who reported dissatisfaction to the attorney general’s office. “My Dad said, ‘I don’t have room for that.’ So they talked back and forth, and the salesman told my dad that he would throw in a new freezer if my dad would buy the meat. He’d sell him the meat and throw in a brand new freezer.

“Well, of course, my dad, he’s a church-going person, he’s a deacon at the church, (and) he doesn’t think that anybody would ever do anything like that,” she said. “And so he bought it. And my dad also paid cash, because the salesman also told him that if he did that, and he sold all his meat on the truck by a certain time that night, that he would get a $100 bonus. And he said, ‘You can’t tell anybody how much I sold the meat to you for or I’ll get in trouble.’”

The freezer “was dented on the side, and rusted,” Koerner said. One night, after spending several long days visiting her father in the hospital, she went to his trailer and noticed a smell. She realized the freezer wasn’t operating, and had black flies on it. When she opened it, “It had maggots in it. It was the most god-awful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Kim Kitts, who lives near Millville with her parents, reported to the state in August 2012, that her parents bought from a persistent salesman who “was speaking about God” and “forced himself into our house.”

The man and someone who seemed to be his trainee “would just stop with a pickup truck with a freezer in the back. They do a hard sell. My parents are not elderly, but they’re older,” Kitts said. “What they showed us wasn’t what we got.”

“They didn’t even give us a signed receipt that we had paid anything, and I said, ‘Either give us a receipt or give us our check back,’” Kitts recalled. “It just seemed like the guy got really agitated. He was really God-fearing and everything when he was here, but he got really agitated after asking for our money back.”

Here’s Kitts’ advice: “Don’t buy meat out of the back of a truck, no matter who comes to your (door). They’ll say anything, as my mom said afterwards. My mom and dad are very God-fearing, trusting people. It’s like the old days, where the guy would sell medicine off the back of the horse trailer.”

Representatives of US Beef were not available to comment for this story, despite attempts to reach them by phone and through their website. A woman working at another meat-distributing company, “Americas Finest Foods,” that occupies the same space at 3210 Profit Drive in Fairfield, said US Beef no longer is operating.

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