James Semon, captain of The Perfect Neighborhood Watch in Hauppauge, emailed this open letter to Patch warning residents of door-to-door salesmen, and how to identify legitimate groups or businesses.
I would like to give some thoughts and share information in regards to door-to- door solicitations and the safety concerns that result from them. As reported in the news lately, (Nassau criminals target the elderly) there has been an increase in criminal activity using the cover of soliciting or working for different services in order to commit crime, or possibly perform recon for a later crime.
Criminals posing as utility workers doing home improvement, contractors and cable TV installers among others have plagued our neighborhoods for years. In fact, the idea of knocking on your door in order to perform reconnaissance for a burglary is nothing new.
A Google search on “door-to-door salesman committing crime” will show plenty of hits in regards to this activity across the nation. As the captain of a neighborhood watch group, I have personally seen the effect of door-to-door solicitors in my community and some of the crime that accompanies it. As I see it, this is a direct assault on my family’s privacy, safety and security. All too often these people have been known to target the elderly.
Now, we’re not talking about the Girl Scouts selling cookies or kids from the school selling raffles. We’re talking about strangers knocking on your door selling something. Let’s take a look at the information that a would-be thief can obtain by walking up to a house and knocking on the door.
From the curb
- Are there security cameras visible on the home?
- What kind of car is in the driveway?
- Is there mail in the mailbox?
- Are newspapers on the driveway?
- Are Garbage cans in the street on a non-pickup day?
- Outside lights on during the day?
All of these are telltale signs the home is most likely unoccupied. That’s a lot of information before they even step on your property. But let’s not stop there.
Walking up your driveway
- Are the vehicle(s) unlocked?
- Is there anything on the front seat or visible in the vehicle that can be easily taken, now or later on (iPods/GPS systems/ Laptops/ money)?
- Is there a garage door opener visible that can be used to gain access to the home?
- Are there alarm signs visible?
At your door
- Are there alarm stickers or a sign visible?
- Is there a beware of dog sign?
- Does the front door have decorative glass or sidelight glass (to look inside the home)?
- Are motion lights visible, or any light for that matter?
- Can the light be easily disabled (unscrewed)?
- Are there overgrown shrubs hiding windows or entry points?
When you answer the door
- Who answered the door (senior / kid / man / woman, or nobody)?
- Is there a dog barking or dog bowl visible?
- Is there an alarm keypad visible - so the thief can look in the decorative door glass later to see if it’s armed?
All this information just from walking up and knocking on your door. They haven’t even got to their pitch yet. Now it’s time to get you to give up information.
Pitch: "We’re in the area next week cleaning gutters; we can give you 25% off.”
Homeowner: “Next week is no good, we’re busy that week.”
What the solicitor just heard: “Oh, so you might not be home next week? Interesting, I’ll make a mental note of that.”
I know the example is very simple and may seem naïve, but you would not believe the information people offer up to complete strangers. I’ve seen first-hand, people reveal very sensitive information. Heck, we tell the whole world when and where we’re going on vacation on Facebook.
So what can be done?
Well, in the Town of Smithtown at least, most people don’t know the town’s code for door-to door solicitors was changed in April 2010 making it illegal to solicit unless certain laws have been adhered to. Previously, there was not really anything the police could do about solicitors. That’s not true anymore.
As per section §215-14 Enforcement:
It shall be the duty of any police officer of the Suffolk County Police Department and/or the Ordinance Inspector of the Town of Smithtown to require any person who is engaged in peddling to produce his peddler's license and to enforce the provisions of this Article against any person found to be violating the same.
Thanks to some Hauppauge community members, various town employees, as well as my predecessor who ran this [neighborhood] watch group, Smithtown amended its town code Section 215 in regards to solicitors. This new code now makes it necessary to file for a permit, pay a fee, submit to fingerprinting, have a background check done, provide dates of door-to-door sales activity and supply proof of your organization among other requirements, to name just a few.
If it is a religious or not-for-profit organization, they do not need a permit but are required to register with the town clerk's office and supply proof of organization, dates of activity in Smithtown and other items.To view the entire code, which goes into much more detail, I’ve provided a link here.
It is my hope, that by arming Smithtown residents with this information, we can better secure the safety of our homes and families by ensuring that the people who do knock on our doors have been properly vetted. So the next time someone knocks on your door to sell something, invoke Section 215 of the town code and call for enforcement.
Captain of The Perfect Neighborhood Watch