We've all seen them - those huge black birds feasting on road kill. They're ugly, but they seldom really bother people - at least not live people.
But lately, a different kind of vulture has descended on Avon Park. They are preying on our elderly, and becoming a downright threat to the community. I'm talking about a species of vulture more commonly known as the door-to-door salesman. Compared to the winged variety, these vultures are every bit as ugly and a whole lot more dangerous.
In the last three days, two of my elderly relatives have become victims of these roaming shysters. Knocking on doors to sell their products is not illegal. But when those belong to the elderly, especially women living alone, I get upset.
Most of our elderly residents are folks who grew up in an age when no one even locked their doors. They were used to the Fuller Brush man and the Watkins salesman and many others who knocked, came in to chat, and offered low prices on things you needed. Not so with their modern counterparts. Plain and simple, these people are con men.
John and I dropped in on an elderly neighbor this week and found a strange man in her home demonstrating a vacuum cleaner. In the course of conversation we discovered that he had arrived without an appointment and randomly knocked on her door.
After finding out that the salesman had been there for four hours, pressuring our neighbor to pay $3,400 for a vacuum that probably wasn't worth $300, my husband went outside and wrote down the license number on the unmarked van parked in her driveway. Then he gave the salesman 30 seconds to leave or he would call the police. You never saw anyone pack up and leave so quickly.
Subsequently, we found out that the guy had unpacked all those boxes from his truck and piled them on her porch before he even rang the bell. When she answered the door he immediately pushed a bottle of free carpet shampoo into her hand, knowing full well she would feel obliged to invite him in.
Maybe you wouldn't have felt that way, but you probably didn't grow up in the 1930s on a farm in Northern Michigan where visitors were few and you were taught to be polite and hospitable to everyone.
You would have realized that even all those boxes didn't mean he was legit, and that he could just as easily be a rapist posing as a salesman, or a burglar there to case the house. You would have become suspicious when he made a phone call to his "manager" for permission to lower the price "just for you." You would have realized it was a scam when he begged you to buy the machine because he only needed one more sale to win the company contest, but if you didn't buy he could lose his job. You would have refused when he wanted you to take him into your bedroom so he could show you how to clean your comforter.
But my trusting neighbor "bought" it all - all except the vacuum cleaner, that is - thanks to our spur-of-the-moment visit and my husband's quick thinking.
Today that same sleaze-ball salesman showed up on my cousin's doorstep in Avon Park Lakes. She said he was a smooth-talker and tenacious, but she stood her ground and didn't let him in.
So, reader, beware. And if you have elderly neighbors or relatives, warn them about these con men. In this age of home invasions, legitimate businesses don't try to get in your home unsolicited.
To avoid becoming road kill for vultures: 1) never open your door to any salesman, unless you initiated the visit; 2) even if you made an appointment, arrange for someone you trust to be with you when the salesman comes; and 3) never open your door to someone you don't know, especially if you're home alone.