Doorstep selling: Language barriers are often exploited

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Salespeople take advantage of language barriers and consumers’ inexperience.
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Salespeople may come to your door and try to sell you something. You should be extremely careful: these salespeople are often skilled at exploiting the element of surprise. On your doorstep, you don't have the opportunity to compare contracts. You are unprepared and therefore more susceptible to the salesperson's sales pitch. As a result, you are more likely to sign whatever is on the paper or on screen.

What is true in general is even more true for refugees, as this business practice is often said to have found its way into refugee homes. Language barriers and inexperience with local sales tactics are sometimes shamelessly exploited. Their inexperience in such matters works to their disadvantage.

The following basic rules should be followed in such situations:

  • Never let a salesperson into your home or refugee shelter. If you tell them you are not interested, they are not allowed to try again. If they do try again – which is against the law - tell them you will report them to the authorities.
  • Never pay in advance. Trustworthy companies will send you an invoice or a bill.
  • Never sign anything you do not understand. Even if you are told that this is the way things work in Germany, or if the seller threatens to call the authorities if you do not sign.
  • If you are not sure, do not sign. If you have the slightest doubt: ask a native speaker or a German citizen for help. There is no shame in asking for help.

The legal situation

If you sign a contract on the doorstep, the contract is valid, but you can usually cancel it. If you cancel the contract, you are no longer bound by it. In principle, you have 14 days from the conclusion of the contract to do this. However, if you have purchased a product, the period does not start until the product has been delivered.

Sometimes what appears to be one contract is actually two or more contracts hidden in one document. For example, if you buy a product but cannot afford it with your own money, you will be offered a loan. This loan to pay for the product is an separate contract. If you want to cancel it, you have to cancel both contracts.

If the consumer has not been informed about the right of withdrawal (i.e. if you have not received information about the withdrawal procedure by mail or letter), the right of withdrawal expires after 12 months and 14 days at the latest. The withdrawal must be notified to the other party - so it is best to write a letter stating that you are withdrawing from the contract. It is safest to send this letter by registered mail ("Einwurf-Einschreiben"), not by e-mail. This is because you will need proof that the other party has received your notice. It is not enough to simply return the goods. You do not need to give a reason for the cancellation.


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