Rob Perez

Raising Cane

By Rob Perez

Sunday, July 29, 2001

Sales person comes
clean on senior deal

The sight of an old vacuum cleaner never looked so good to Carrie Kawamoto.

A door-to-door salesman on Thursday delivered the vacuum cleaner to Kawamoto's 85-year-old mother, took back a $2,300 vacuum he had sold the elderly Waipahu woman in early June and refunded her money.

The action came after last Sunday's "Raising Cane" detailed the plight of Kawamoto's mother and an 87-year-old Waipahu man who also had purchased a $2,300 vacuum cleaner from the same salesman.

Both families said the buyers had been duped into making the purchases. Both said the two suffered from senile or early senile dementia and produced physicians' notes saying so. One note even indicated 87-year-old Yoshikazu Takenaka wasn't capable of handling his own financial or legal affairs.

On top of that, both residents live in houses with wood floors. Who needs a $2,300 vacuum to clean floors?

Despite these factors, both families tried unsuccessfully for weeks to cancel the deals. The companies involved said the buyers didn't change their minds within the three days specified in the contracts.

But last week the companies had a change of heart. Sometimes it takes the harsh glare of the public spotlight to prod companies to do the right thing.

"I was pleasantly shocked," Kawamoto said.

Roy Tamashiro, president of City Cleaners, supplier of the vacuums, said the salesman decided to refund the money so everyone would be happy.

"I think that's the decision that should've been made," Tamashiro said.

This was the same owner who a week earlier said the families would say whatever it takes to "win you over." This was the same owner who dismissed the physicians' notes, saying doctors will sign anything.

In the case of Takenaka, the company that financed his purchase canceled the contract one day after the Star-Bulletin inquired about the case, then City Cleaners agreed to buy back the vacuum.

While advocates for the elderly say the majority of door-to-door sales people are ethical, there are enough unethical ones to give the industry a tarnished image.

When Rep. Marcus Oshiro was a Legal Aid attorney in the early 1990s, he had clients who bought costly vacuums from door-to-door sales people. The rub: The clients lived in homes with no carpeting and spoke no English.

Lori Chinen shared the story of two vacuum cleaner salesmen who showed up at her grandmother's home a day after her grandfather's funeral. The salesmen failed to make a sale and, strangely, left without visiting any other neighborhood homes.

"I'm certain they saw the (grandfather's) death notice and tried to take advantage of my grandmother," Chinen said.

If a sales person uses deceptive or unfair tactics to make a sale, the buyer can use that as a way to try to get out of the contract, Oshiro said.

Contact the state Office of Consumer Protection to file complaints.

Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez writes on issues
and events affecting Hawaii. Fax 529-4750, or write to
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. He can also be reached
by e-mail at:

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