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Cindy Tukaki on her front door step. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

Would you sign up to buy a new TV, when the contract requires 35 weekly instalments before you even get to switch it on?

One door-to-door sales company’s tactics have Tauranga Budget Advice Service so concerned, they’ve lodged a complaint with the Commerce Commission.

This is a story of caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. Cindy Tukaki is a beneficiary, who claims she was browbeaten into buying the TV by a couple of silver tongued door-to-door salesmen when everyone involved knew she could not afford it.

“They just nagged me,” says Cindy. ”They kept saying ‘it’s a good deal’.”

And the Tauranga Budgetary Advice Service, which is cleaning up Cindy’s mess, is concerned because they believe a vulnerable person was bulldozed.

“Cindy should have had some advice,” says Diane Bruin, manager of Tauranga Budget Advisory Service.

“There’s no doubt any advice Cindy got would have been that she was getting in over her head and this deal was unwise.”

The sad part is, Cindy will never see one flicker on that TV, despite having paid 22 instalments worth $550 when she did not have the money to spare.

“These people don’t have the means, they don’t have the cash” says Diane. “And they don’t have the nous and the will to say no and mean no.”

Cindy shared her experience with SunLive in the hope it might be a salutary lesson for others. Hers is a story that’s all too common according to the Budgetary Advice Service.

It started the day two pitchmen arrived at the door of Cindy’s state house in Merivale. They had a deal for her: A Konka 55-inch HD LED flat screen to replace the little TV she currently owned.

“I said to them ‘I don’t get much on my benefit, I can’t afford it.’ But they just kept hassling me,” explains Cindy.

The sales company, Ace Marketing NZ, says its sales team was just doing its job, fairly and legally.

In a letter to the Budget Advisory Service, the company said its sales staff are: “well versed with what they can and cannot do in trying to secure a sale.

“In the event they are found to have used illegal means to obtain a sale, they will have their contract with our company terminated forthwith.”

In this case, the company didn’t seem to think there had been any wrong doing. But Cindy insists the men wouldn’t leave until she signed and so she “gave in”. And she says the salesmen told her they would fix it so she could afford the television.

“Yes, they said $25 a week.” That does make things sound affordable, but when Budget Services did the math, the TV would have ended up costing Cindy $2835.50.

And what sort of deposit?

“No deposit,” says Cindy. “But they really didn’t tell me the whole story until I signed up. I feel like I was tricked.”

According to Cindy, what the salesmen didn’t tell her until they’d secured her signature was she would have to make 35 weekly payments before the TV was delivered.

“I was thinking they’d bring me my new TV that same day or the next,” she says.

At best, she would have to wait nearly nine months to watch her 55-inch flat screen. At worst, if she missed one payment, delivery would be delayed even further. As it happened, Cindy, on a stretched budget, defaulted on two payments.

Ace Marketing NZ “vehemently denied coercing Ms Tukaki into agreeing to a purchase”.

And unless Cindy was able to provide a sworn statement she was coerced, Ace Marketing NZ says it has “no evidence to support her claim with which it could use to investigate further”.

“It’s unreasonable,” says Diane. “These people don’t have credit so it’s their only option of buying something they want.”

Cindy is disappointed, if not a little shame faced. “They tricked me because they didn’t tell me everything until I’d signed.”

“What these salesmen do is sell the idea and the need,” says Diane. “The client wants it but doesn’t really need it. It’s all about want and nothing about affordability.”

But why didn’t Cindy just tell them to bugger off? “I did tell them, over and over again for about 40 minutes,” she says.

Cindy doesn’t have much. This grandmother of 12 lives on the Supported Living Benefit in a lower socioeconomic neighbourhood. She gets $261 a week, $64 of which goes on rent. She’s servicing a debt as well as her other living expenses.

There were several crucial aspects of the purchase deal that Cindy was vague about. She thought she had the contract somewhere at home, she wasn’t sure of the name of the company she had signed up to, she wasn’t sure of the brand of TV and didn’t know how much it would eventually cost her.

It tells anyone that Cindy is not worldly and that she is vulnerable.

“They did tell me there would be about 100 payments,” says Cindy. But when the Budget Advisory Service did the numbers, Cindy would have made 109 instalments and paid $2835.50, including charges for her new TV.

If Cindy had gone shopping over Labour Weekend, she could have got a better deal – a slightly smaller 50-inch inch full HD LED flat screen Konka for $647.

And she could have got a mainstream 55-inch TV brand, such as Samsung, Panasonic or Sony, for around $1000 less than she would have paid for her Konka.

Cindy shrugs. “I just thought this was easier, they came to the door.”

Now the Tauranga Budget Advisory Service is picking up the pieces. The direct debits have been stopped. “No good throwing good money after bad,” says Diane. They’re working on a financial plan for Cindy.

The service has also been negotiating with Ace Marketing on Cindy’s behalf.

“These company’s normally work very well with us in these circumstances,” says Diane.

And in Cindy’s case Ace said “it’s prepared to consider options that may meet the interests of both parties.”

However, Diane says Ace is adamant about who is responsible for this mess. Ace told the Advisory Service that Cindy had did have an out.

To make their point clear, Ace Marketing says it has “taken the position that it has acted responsibly”.

Because even if she was coerced, Ace says Cindy was entitled to cancel her contract within five working days without incurring any penalties.

Ace says Cindy appears to have had a change of heart six months into her contract and now wanted to “unilaterally terminate a contract that she, as a consenting adult, entered into of her own free will”.

It has also agreed to reimburse Cindy $550 for her 22 weekly instalments. But less cancellation charges of $386.

This includes a non-refundable application fee of $45, a 10 per cent selling cost of $272.50, weekly transaction fees of $38.50, a direct debit set-up fee of $10 and failed payment fees of $20.

Ace has apparently also offered Cindy the chance to choose from some of Ace’s product options such as a vacuum, a phone, a mini hi-fi stereo, a blender or a kid’s bike.

But in cash, Cindy will get a net refund of just $164 and a $386 lesson on how to say no. The Budget Advisory Service, however, is demanding a full refund.

“The message to everyone is planning,” says Diane. “But planning is probably not a word people hell bent on buying something want to hear.”