Note: The following post merely describes the manifestation of this scam in Alaska. It is also occurring nationwide; see this comprehensive article from the New York Review of Magazines which describes it in depth.
Several years ago, there was a door-to-door sales scheme taking place here in South Central Alaska. A young person, usually an "eager young college girl with soulful eyes" would show up at your door, explain that she was going to school, and invited you to help her work her way through school. After a protracted exchange of banalities and pleasantries, she would suddenly brandish a Talmudic-size list of magazines and periodicals and ask you to consider subscribing to them. She would ALWAYS claim she had a better selection of magazines than any store (naturally, the list NEVER had any Politically Incorrect periodicals included such as National Socialist Magazine, Free Speech, or The Nationalist Times).
Of course, I always said NO; after all, Anchorage is a city of 270,000, and the shelves of our local stores teem with nearly every possible magazine imaginable, half of which are unpalatable, most of which are completely irrelevant to my existence, and all of which devote half their pages to ads. However, there hadn't been any instances of this door-to-door salesmanship for a while.
Until recently. Just today (August 6th, 2007) Anchorage resident Linda Kellen, a self-described "former federal worker-turned crazy lady down the block", wrote a Compass piece published in the Anchorage Daily News in which she discloses that this scam has returned to South Central Alaska. According to Kellen, they operate out of "a white van skulking around the block while a team of hungry young adults claiming to be 'local college students' continues their summer-long house-to-house hunt". Read the full column HERE.
Here's Kellen's description of their approach. Note that it hasn't really changed much in five years:
...they all follow the same basic script, presumably because it works. They will claim to be from your neighborhood. They may be wearing college T-shirts or even -- I kid you not -- cheerleader clothing! They use the old direct-sales trick of naming one of your neighbors and claiming that person's "support."
When I've asked who they are, these complete strangers give a first name only ... not a company or the reason for the visit. Success depends upon gaining access to your home in whatever way they can.
Cutting right to the bottom line by asking "What are you selling," may trigger defensiveness as well as evasive maneuvers. If, like me, you demand to see a college I.D. card and give the salesperson a "Law and Order" -- worthy interrogation, the poor little victim may broadcast to the neighbors a full description of your "evil nature" to gain their sympathy ... and their money.
And who are their primary victims: While they will troll a multitude of neighborhoods, they actually have three preferred categories of victims:
1). Senior Citizens: They capitalize upon the emotional vulnerability of the elderly. A 60-year old man is likely to be charmed by a flirtatious coed wannabe to the point that he might take financial and other risks otherwise avoided. A 60-year old woman might have her "maternal instincts" aroused by just such a scammer. For those reasons, the elderly are targeted with countless scams like this nationwide.
2). Immigrants: While Kellen doesn't mention this, immigrants can also be a preferred target, because of their lack of fluency in English. Scammers will take advantage of this, as well as the immigrants' frequent desire not to look stupid by asking the scammer to explain himself more thoroughly. The neighborhoods of Mountain View, Fairview, and Muldoon have the greatest concentration of immigrants in Anchorage; consequently, they can expect to be preferentially targeted.
3). The Solicitors Themselves: In a way, the "eager young college puke" knocking on your door could also be considered a victim, after a fashion. One advertisement I recall seeing years ago was worded similar to this: "Looking for young people to travel the entire Lower 48, Alaska, and Hawaii to increase circulation for publishers. Training provided. Competitive wages." To many college students, particularly those who must pay their to school, this caters to nearly every one of their youthful fantasies; fun, travel and adventure, and a salary to boot. It isn't until they get flown to their deployed location that they are suddenly confronted with the drudgery of door-to-door salesmanship, along with the undoubted pressure and quotas imposed upon them. If they quit early, they may have to pay their own way back home. So they're stuck. Not much different in concept than the Slavic girls from Russia and Eastern Europe who get lured to Israel under similar false pretenses of fun, travel, and adventure, then find themselves engaged as "sex slaves" after their arrival.
Linda Kellen reminds us that there are websites and bulletin boards out there with information and links identifying these fly-by-night companies. Some of these websites include databases of known fraudulent businesses. Just finding out the company name and using Google will generally provide all the information you need. When one salesman represented "Entrepreneurs across America," Kellen executed a search on http://www.ripoffreport.com/ and came up with 99 reports of fraud.
While the majority of these salespeople merely want to make a sale, some may have more sinister purpose. Some use this means to get into your home to scout out your possessions for a future home invasion, to rob you on the post, or to rape you. A disorganized but informative website (travelingsalescrews.info) has links documenting attacks by sexual predators and thieves who use magazine sales to get into homes.
Even if you choose to buy subscriptions from these people, we Alaskans can legally engage in "buyer's remorse" According to the "Five Day Cooling Off" period prescribed in
Alaska Statute 45.02.350, "the purchaser may revoke the offer to buy within five business days of entering into the contract, and that the seller, at the time of the sale, give the purchaser written notice of the right to revoke." Solicitors must provide this "right to revoke" notice in order to legally do business in Alaska.
The Alaska State Department of Law Web site has that information along with many other consumer protection topics and contacts for reporting consumer fraud. Find it at: www.law.state.ak.us/department/civil/consumer/cp_topics.html.
For those outside Alaska, visit the Consumerfraudreporting.org website to learn how to report scams in your area.
The Bottom Line: Don't, under any circumstances, let these people into your home. If they ask to use the phone, bring the phone to them. If they ask to use your bathroom, tell them to pee their pants. But don't let them in.