How do we protect the elderly from high pressure doorstep salespeople and the unscrupulous companies that employ them?
My mother-in-law is 91 years-old, mentally alert and ruggedly independent. Despite declining mobility, she still drives and maintains herself in her own home, with very little help – that’s the way she wants it.
She’s suffered with chronic pain for many years and recently filled in an enquiry form for an electrically adjustable riser/recliner ‘massage’ chair, due to health benefit claims she believed the form was making. She was duly contacted by the firm to make an appointment to meet a representative in her home.
When the rep arrived MiL repeated that she did not want to buy; she only wanted to try out the products. Despite this the sales rep was in her house for four hours and while reassuring her there was no obligation to purchase, repetitively pressured her to buy. He continued to be evasive about prices right up to the point of signing.
The rep also made several unverifiable claims about the health benefits of the device that were not repeated in the sales literature; he claimed this would rectify MiL’s chronic pain and she would be "cured". My mother-in-law
eventually signed because she was tired; she knew she "shouldn’t be doing this," but wanted him to leave.
She had been signed up for an electric chair at a cost of £3,980. A quick Google search shows strikingly similar products for around £1,000. And for all my research I am aware of no chair (electric, adjustable, vibrating or otherwise) that can “cure” degenerative arthritic problems, nor reverse nine decades of wear and tear to the feet.
That Google search also revealed a number of similar companies that target vulnerable elderly and/or people with disabilities. What they all have in common is that no prices are shown for the products, on the basis that they are ‘bespoke’ and require a representative’s visit to measure you up for a ‘tailored’ chair. Telephone or web enquiries do not deliver much information about product specifications, benefits, or, tellingly, price ranges. All avenues of approach result in pressure to sign up for an in-home appointment with their so-called ‘experts’.
The length of time the rep was her the house was unacceptable; the personal details and anecdotes - distractions to ingratiate himself with my MiL - were suspiciously close to explicitly illegal high pressure techniques such as "I’ll get the sack if I don’t make this sale". These sales methods are reprehensible and just plain wrong.
The worry is that this has become a niche industry; they target vulnerable elderly people on a daily basis and there seems little will to stop them. If they manage to hook someone with a chair sale, I suspect they then try to sell the bed, scooter, etc, etc until the savings are gone – then there is always a credit agreement secured against a house or other assets.
I suspect, from my contact with them, that many of these companies back off if a relative appears. Consumer protection gives you seven days to cancel a contract like this and, fortunately for MiL, she told us about the chair the day after signing for it. I suspect that many victims will not tell anyone within the seven day period and/or do not have any close relatives to tell.
Trading Standards can only be case specific - which doesn't address the wider issue. Our local MPs have been helpful so far. But the problem is that it is not illegal to sell a product at a ridiculously inflated price, it seems no matter how vulnerable the customer is.
Sadly I feel sure this is a familiar tale. Something must be done to protect people from this type of abuse. I'd love to know your thoughts.
You can add your comments to this piece by Harrikat here.