How to fend off ‘snake-oil sellers’ at your door



The consumer watchdog has inflicted a hefty penalty on another dodgy door-to-door seller, bringing to light some of the underhanded tactics used by these pesky door knockers.

IPower Pty Ltd, trading as Simply Energy, has paid a $20,400 fine to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) following allegations of misleading conduct.

Last year, its sellers lied to get consumers to listen, telling them there was an “urgent problem” or “something wrong” with their existing energy supply, the ACCC alleges.

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ACCC chairman Rod Sims told The New Daily that door knockers, who are often paid by commission, have been known to use “numerous types of deception” to trick consumers, although a recent crackdown (along with several million-dollar fines) has caused the industry to wise up.

Door-to-door sellers

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Don’t be fooled. Photo: Shutterstock

“We’ve taken action against all of the main energy companies,” Mr Sims confirmed, adding that he had seen even more “extreme” examples than the Simply Energy case.

“We’ve taken a number of cases to court where people say that your electricity trader is actually going out of business, so you have to sign up to someone new.”

Consumer Action Law Centre spokesman Dan Simpson said many door-to-door sellers are “snake-oil salesmen plain and simple”, and congratulated the ACCC on keeping the sector accountable.

“Door-to-door salespeople often use high-pressure tactics to get people to buy products they don’t want, don’t need, and can’t afford,” Mr Simpson said.

“They can be intimidating and misleading, and the sales rarely result in the consumer getting the cheapest deal.

“Simply Energy has learnt an expensive lesson, and the rest of the industry should take notice.”

Don’t be duped

One of the worst tactics seen by the ACCC is that of sellers impersonating government officials.

If an unknown person knocks on your door claiming to be a bureaucrat, demand proof.

“They’ve got a right to ask the person why they’re on the door step, and  to ask for ID to get verification,” said Mr Sims.

Show them the door … and these words

Do not knock

Door-to-door sellers must respect signs like these, on pain of hefty fines. Photo: Shutterstock

If you feel pressured, simply tell the agent to go away and they must, Mr Sims said.

“Just ask them to leave and remind them that if they don’t there’s a penalty of $50,000.”

Yep, that’s right. Not going away when told carries a huge penalty.

If you have been pressured into buying something, you have 10 days to call off the transaction without incurring any cost.

Put up a sign

The Consumer Action Law Centre encourages all Australians to display a ‘Do Not Knock’ sticker out the front of their homes to avoid the dodgy practices of door-to-door sales.

The ACCC confirmed that these signs have force in law. Sellers who ignore these signs can also be fined.

Shop around online instead

Being tricked into buying at the front door denies consumers the chance to shop around and look for a better deal, said Consumer Action Law Centre’s Mr Simpson.

“The simple fact is that energy contracts are complex and it’s impossible for a customer to make a considered decision at the door,” he said.

A much better deal will be found using an online comparison website, he said, where electricity usage patterns, peak and off-peak rates, the impact of pay-on-time discounts and cancellation fees can be factored in.

Those in Tasmania, South Australia, NSW and the ACT can go to the national Energy Made Easy website to compare prices and find a better deal. For Victorians, the state government offers this website to help you switch, and Queensland offers a similar site.

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