Spokane - June 28, 2001 - Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire today sued members of an Eastern Washington vacuum cleaner sales ring for using unfair and high-pressure sales tactics on vulnerable elderly citizens.
"These defendants preyed on vulnerable people and in some cases held them virtual hostages in their own homes," Gregoire said. "This is one of the most disturbing examples of illegal sales tactics that my office has seen."
In papers filed in Spokane County Superior Court, state attorneys allege that the defendants deliberately targeted elderly consumers throughout Eastern Washington by scanning city directories for people with older-sounding names or cruising neighborhoods for homes that appeared to belong to elderly residents.
In her lawsuit, Gregoire claims two vacuum cleaner distributors and five door-to-door salesmen sought out elderly consumers who are "vulnerable due to poor eyesight, hearing impairment, recent bereavement or illness."
"They systematically targeted our most vulnerable citizens then used whatever tactics necessary to talk them into buying vacuum cleaners they did not need or want," Gregoire explained. "There ought to be a special place for these people in the gallery of rogue businesses."
Consumers were either called as part of an "appliance survey" or were confronted at their door by salesmen who told them they were eligible to enter a drawing, often for a supermarket shopping spree. The lawsuit contends these were simply a ruse to gather information that could later be used to make a sale. Weeks later, consumers were told they hadn't won the grand prize after all. Instead, they'd won a free "carpet cleaning." To get the prize, they had to agree to an in-home demonstration of a new "environmental product," the complaint alleges.
Many of the prizes were never delivered, and if they were, they consisted of a few cans of soup or a six-pack of soda pop.
During the demonstrations, salesmen sometimes refused to leave homes when asked, argued with consumers who were reluctant to buy, searched for valuable items that could be used in trade if the consumers said they couldn't afford the vacuum, or "double teamed" consumers by using two salespeople to complete a sale.
In most cases, the complaint alleges, consumers agreed to buy vacuum cleaners only after it appeared that was the only way to get the salesman to leave. Many were not told they had a three-day right to cancel the sale.
Consumers paid up to $2,500 for the vacuum cleaners that were sold to the distributors for $500 wholesale, the complaint states.
Defendants in the state lawsuit are various companies owned by Carol Weeks (a.k.a. Carol J. Naccarato and Carol Long) and Frederal Lopez. Also named are five salesmen, Alfred Lopez, James Schmidt, Jerry Loudermilk, Johnny Champagne and James Crisler.
The complaint specifically accuses the defendants of:
- Making false promises and misrepresentations for not disclosing that consumers had to endure in-home sales demonstrations in order to receive free gifts;
- Failing to deliver promised gifts and prizes;
- Engaging in high pressure sales tactics;
- Interfering with consumers' three-day right to cancel in-home sales contracts;
- Failing to make refunds;
- Failing to provide promised goods and services; and
- Obtaining money or property from consumers by theft or deception.
While the amount of civil penalties the state is seeking is undetermined, it could be as much as $250,000. Attorneys also will seek restitution for as many as 65 consumers. Though still undetermined, restitution could amount to an average of between $500 and $800 per consumer.