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This is what a City of Huntsville solicitation permit looks like. If some knocking on your door inside the city can't produce it, dom't respond. (Courtesy of HPD)

Who’s at Your Door?

Information about door-to-door solicitation in Huntsville

By Rich Heiland
For Walker County News Today

A YOUNG MAN selling educational books door-to-door in Huntsville has a valid solicitation permit, according to Huntsville Police Lt. Jim Barnes.

Residents in Elkins Lake shared concerns on the website nextdoor.com this week about door-to-door solicitation in the neighborhood. The solicitor presented a card with his picture identifying himself as a representative of “Southwestern Advantage,” formerly known as Southwestern Company. Its website says it was formed in1855. It recruits college students or college-age young people for its sales force.

Barnes said Friday the city has a very specific process for issuing permits.

“A permit cannot be issued to a company. Each person must have a permit and present it if asked,” he said. “They have to fill out an application and undergo a criminal background check It is a substantial application and it’s not easy.”

Barnes confirmed that the man soliciting in Huntsville successfully completed that process. One resident said the man seemed to be from another country and Barnes said he is from an eastern European country.

An on-line check shows mixed reviews for the company, with the majority being positive. However, consumer protection advocates urge caution when looking at internet reviews – positive or negative – because they can be placed by companies or even by competitors trying to make the business look bad.

More than one poster on nextdoor.com claimed that soliciting is not permitted in Elkins Lake but that is not the case. There is nothing in the property owners’ rules, regulations or by-laws prohibiting it. Nor, can there be since the neighborhood must follow city ordinances.

“It’s not illegal to walk down a street or knock on a door,” Barnes said.

But that doesn’t mean residents can’t take common sense steps. The reality is many door-to-door solicitors are pushing scams, trying to get inside houses to case them for later break-ins, scope out security systems or, worse, harm residents.

One poster said the Southwestern rep told her he would not ring doorbells with “No Soliciting” signs. Barnes said such signs may help but most likely would not deter shady solicitors.

There is a lot of advice on line for what do to do if someone knocks on your door.:

  • Look! Do not just open the door. If your door glass does not give you a clear look, go to a window.
  • If you can’t see, ask them to verbally state their name and business. If you are not interested, say so.
  • If you can see them ask them to hold up a permit (a sample accompanies this article) or company ID. For instance, anyone claiming to be from the city or Walker County should have a photo ID. Same with public utilities.
  • If someone claims to have a delivery you are not expecting, do not open the door. If they say you have to sign for something tell them to place the form by your door and go back to their vehicle until you have signed it, then leave the delivery outside. Don’t open the door until they are gone.
  • Post a “No Soliciting” sign. You may still get your bell rung but if you don’t know the person, don’t even respond.
  • Never answer your back door unless you absolutely know the person.
  • Any doubts, call the Huntsville police (936-291-5400) or in the county, Walker County Sheriff’s Department (936-435-2400).
  • Keep up with local media. Barnes sends out alerts on a variety of scams and public safety concerns and Walker County News Today publishes them.
Rich Heiland, a Huntsville resident, is a former publisher of the Huntsville Item and owner of Free Press publications, LLC, a reporting/writing firm working with media. He has been a reporter, editor and publisher at several dailies and as a reporter was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team. He also has taught journalism at the university level. He can be reached at solutionsmap@msn.com or 936-293-0293.

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