Bogus magazine sales at your door?

Magazine sales scams typically begin with a knock at the door and a young person on the other side selling magazine subscriptions to “raise money” for a charity, school trip, or other seemingly worthy cause. Consumers who take the bait and sign up, however, often report receiving nothing in return. The Better Business Bureau files more than 1,000 complaints about magazine sales fraud annually.

The hazards for consumers who fall prey to magazine sales fraud do not end with false promises. In an interview with the New York Times, Isaac James, a former sales crew member testified that he regularly stole, “wedding rings, watches, necklaces, money, checks, shoes, clothing, glasses, [and] hats” from his customers after being let into the house. Unlicensed peddlers can be especially dangerous. The Columbia County (Ga.) law enforcement in February 2011 apprehended 17 members of a sales crew, five of whom had criminal records involving violent crimes.

With schools out for the summer, NCL expects to see more incidences of fraudulent subscription sales. Recently, the Medford (Ore.) Mail Tribune reported the arrest of two young adults after they had collected more than $4,500 in receipts from fraudulent door-to-door book and magazine subscription sales.

Sales crews are just as dangerous for the young adults who work on them as they are for consumers. NCL has consistently ranked traveling sales crews as one of our five worst teen jobs. The teens and young adults who make up the bulk of the traveling sales crew workforce are often promised they will see the country, make easy money, and party with friends. The unfortunate reality is that these teens work grueling hours beginning in the early morning and lasting late into the night, all the while being paid exclusively on commission. Crewmembers rarely report making a profit after travel expenses are deducted from their pay, and they often bring back horrific tales of abuse at the hands of their managers. Due to the transient nature of the work, local law enforcement often has a hard time cracking down on the crews. 

FIGHT FRAUD: What to do when a magazine salesperson approaches you

So, what’s the right action to take for consumers that are approached by a magazine salesperson? Here are a few tips to avoid being defrauded:

  1. Ask where they’re from. Fraudulent sellers are more often than not out-of-towners on the road to defraud consumers and then move on to another location.
  2. Get it in writing. Before you sign up for a magazine subscription, be sure you understand the terms and conditions. Legitimate magazine companies will give you all the details you need to know in writing, including the length of the commitment, the total price, and who to call if you decide to cancel the subscription and get a refund.
  3. If it’s a good deal today, it’ll be a good deal tomorrow. Since traveling sales crews get paid on commission, they may try to pressure you into signing up and paying right away. Remember, if it is a truly worthy cause, you should be given the time you need to think about it before you sign up. And paying with a credit card offers better protection than cash or a check.
  4. Trust, but verify. Ask the seller for a business card and information about the company she is working for. Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau, and call any phone numbers listed to make sure you can reach a live person before handing over money.
  5. Report unlicensed door-to-door sales. Many municipalities require a solicitation license before an individual can sell door-to-door. If your town has such a law, be sure to ask to see the seller’s license. If they are unable or unwilling to produce it, don’t do business with them and report the solicitation to local law enforcement.
  6. Consider subscribing directly from the publisher. Given the amount of fraudulent activity that is going on in the door-to-door magazine sales industry, at the end of the day it may make more sense to simply subscribe directly from the magazine (via its Web site or by calling directly) or via a subscription clearinghouse service. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Remember, never let a salesperson you don’t know or trust into your home.