Sacto 9-1-1
February 12, 2010
Sacramento area warned: Beware door-to-door solicitors

By Kim Minugh
kminugh@sacbee.com

Responding to an influx of reports from residents concerned about suspicious solicitors, law enforcement officials are warning people to be skeptical of just about anyone at the door.

Except when it comes to U.S. Census workers and maybe cookie-peddling Girl Scouts, legitimate neighborhood salesmen are pretty much a thing of the past, said Sherrie Carhart, a crime prevention specialist for the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.

"It's past the time. People shouldn't be going door-to-door soliciting," she said. "It's not something that's accepted these days."

Instead, Carhart said, many of the modern-day "solicitors" likely are prospective burglars, looking for empty homes.

Carhart's warning comes after she's received a number of calls from residents asking about aggressive solicitors pushing everything from cleaning supplies to electronics to assistance for veterans.

Some have been so aggressive that the solicitors have walked into homes uninvited, residents report.

Roger Berkenpas, a community activist in Fair Oaks, said some of his neighbors have talked about a "very smooth, pushy" vacuum salesman who promises Wal-Mart gift cards to anyone who will listen to his sales pitch.

The couple of takers have been disappointed to find the gift cards were worthless, Berkanpas said.

Carhart said sales people are required to carry a copy of the county permit they must obtain for door-to-door solicitation, as well as a copy of their business license.

(A small group of folks are exempt from the required county permit, Carhart said, including non-profits, churches and federal government workers, including those carrying out the U.S. Census.)

But before asking for that paperwork, residents should be wary of even opening the door, Carhart said. She suggests making your presence known by talking through the door or a window.

If you notice the person skipping homes on your street, trying doorknobs, looking through windows or going to back fences, call your local law enforcement agency's non-emergency line, Carhart said.

If it looks like someone is in the act of breaking into a home, call 911, she said.

Authorities have tried in recent months to alert residents about tactics sometimes used by prospective burglars, such as knocking on the door and asking for someone who doesn't live there.

An elderly woman in Meadowview opened her front door Monday night to a young man saying his dog was in her backyard - and then was ordered to the ground at gunpoint. Her house was ransacked and three men fled with cash and jewelry.

Carhart said Sacramento's communities are full of people of "good-natured, helpful people" - and, unfortunately, many that want to take advantage of those good Samaritans.

"People are interested in scamming other people," she said. "There are a lot of bad people out there."

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