Authorities warn of fraudulent door-to-door sales

Local authorities are warning the public about schemes involving companies that send teenage sales people door to door, urging unsuspecting residents to buy magazine subscriptions and other goods they may never receive.

Kelvin Collins, president and chief executive officer of the Better Business Bureau in Macon, said in the last year, the national organization has received more than 1,100 complaints from consumers about the practice.

“Many of these companies employ crews of high school and college-age people who are trying to earn money over the summer. These crews are sent to communities to knock on doors and sell magazines — sometimes without appropriate licensing,” he said Wednesday. “In the sales pitch, the representative might explain they are working to help get their lives back on track, raising money on behalf of a charity or for a school trip, or even selling subscriptions to support troops in Iraq.

“Because sales representatives are typically high school- or college-age, victims readily believe the potentially fictitious sales pitch and often pay several hundred dollars for the subscriptions by personal check given directly to the sales reps.”

Victims have complained about paying for magazines — or children’s books, CDs and DVDs, or learning tools — that never arrived. Residents also reported being subjected to high-pressure and misleading sales tactics, Collins said.

Popular deals, he said, have been for one- and two-year subscriptions ranging from about $35 to $85, which are much higher than average yearly magazine offers. The sales teams are growing in Macon and Bibb County, he said. Some of the companies that have been complained about to the consumer watch group are: Trinity Public Relations, Seedtime Publications, Prestige Sales LLC, Omni Horizons, Greater Image, Fresh Start Opportunities and “It’s probably one of the most even spread things I’ve seen happen in the county. They target neighborhoods,” Collins said. “We’re getting more and more calls. ... maybe 100 or so in the last three weeks. The sheriff’s department has been getting at least that many.

“They pull on the heartstrings of the consumer to get them to want to help and provide that extra goodwill,” he said. “But this whole thing has another side to it. We do hear from the students. The people operating in Macon are not from Macon. The kids get here and do not meet their sales quota and do not have a way back home.

“Most of the time, they really are college students working their way through school or trying to save up for school or for an overseas mission. Most of the time they don’t understand that the company that they’re selling for does not have the same interests.”

Lt. George Meadows, spokesman for the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, said sheriff’s investigators have received several complaints about the alleged scam artists.

“Some people are naturally suspicious of door-to-door salespeople, whether they’re young or old,” he said. “It’s nothing new at all. We’ve dealt with it since there were door-to-door salesmen.”

Investigations of the complaints are being taken seriously, he said, but authorities have yet to uncover a crime.

“We’re not looking at these as violations of the law as of yet because these people seem to have obtained valid door-to-door solicitation permits from the courthouse and are selling legally,” he said. “There will be a crime when these subscriptions do not show up.”

John Atkinson said he was working on the lawn at his Canyon Road home April 20, when a young man approached him selling magazines.

“He was about halfway down the driveway before I realized he was even there,” the 66-year-old north Macon man said. “He acted like he was visiting the neighborhood. He said his grandmother lived about two blocks away. He told me her name, said he was going to Tech and that he was interested in marketing.”

Atkinson said after a minutes-long sales pitch, the young salesman persuaded Atkinson to purchase his least expensive magazine package for $49. “I told him I didn’t need any magazine subscriptions. I was more concerned with helping him go to college. I gave him a check,” he said. “I’m still not real sure it wasn’t legitimate.”

Atkinson said he contacted the Better Business Bureau following the sale, having grown concerned about writing a check and putting himself at risk for identity theft.

“My wife was in the house. She sort of got irritated at me and reminded me that I probably shouldn’t have done that.” he said.

“It all may be legitimate. The boy may be earning money. The subscriptions may come. At this point, I’ve had no problems,” he said. “In fact, the check has not even cleared the bank. If I’d given him cash, I wouldn’t have worried about it.”

However, Atkinson said, he was unable to locate the seller’s grandmother in the phone book and the address he gave for her home does not exist.

Collins advises residents to research companies before making in-home purchases.

Customers also have three days to cancel purchases totaling more than $25 that are made at home or at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business, according to Federal Trade Commission’s Three-Day Cooling-Off Rule.

For more information, contact the Better Business Bureau at 742-7999.

To contact writer Ashley Tusan Joyner, call 744-4347