Allison Gowing was scammed out of $80 when she wrote a check to a magazine sales agent who came to her door in 2003.
She was excited about the idea of benefiting children’s hospitals, which is where the salesperson said a portion of the proceeds of her subscription would go.
Gowing learned her lesson when she realized that she wasn’t receiving the magazine and didn’t get her money back.
When a she received a similar pitch two weeks ago, she said no.
Lawrence public schools alerted police to the latest wave of magazine-selling scam on July 8. Residents told the school district that two girls said they were raising money for a drama club trip to New York. They claimed to be students at Lawrence Free State High School and said the magazines were through a company called Marquis Fulfillment Agency. They also said some of the proceeds would benefit a veterans hospital.
Rick Gammill, safety director of Lawrence public schools, said he had heard about the scam from about 10 people. Sgt. Michael Monroe said the police department had two calls about the scam since July 8.
Gowing’s experience with the girls was similar. She said two girls rang her doorbell and told her they were fundraising for a trip to London through Kansas University’s drama club.
“One of the girls was pretty bubbly, and she was trying to act like she was from the area,” Gowing said. “She started talking about how she was going to London, and her grandparents wanted her to show in some way that she was serious about it.”
Gavin Young, a spokesman for Attorney General Steve Six, said his office receives a couple complaints each month about the scam, but that it’s more common in the summer.
Young said it’s difficult to track down the scammers because they can get licensed with different names at local levels and that registration can vary by county.
In 2004, Johnson County sued a magazine sales company called United Family Circulations Inc. According to a woman who answered the phone at United Family Circulations Inc., in Buford, Ga., it does the processing for Marquis Fulfillment Agency. She would not elaborate.
According to the court case, the company was ordered not to engage in magazine sales in Johnson County without 30 day’s prior notice to the district attorney’s office. United Family Circulations Inc. was also ordered to pay $20,000 to the clerk of the district court and the district attorney’s White Collar Crime Investigative Fund, as well as $867 in restitution to people who thought they bought magazines from nonprofit organizations.
According to the Better Business Bureau rating system, which ranges from F to A+, United Family Circulations Inc., is rated F. It is not accredited with the BBB. The grade is based on 154 complaints that were filed against the company, 64 failures to respond to those complaints and eight complaints that were unresolved.
Young cited three rules for door-to-door interactions:
• Get the name and address of the supplier.
• Where you sign should always be on the front of the document.
• There is always a three-day cancellation policy, orally and in a separate document.
The girls who solicited Gowing didn’t follow any of the procedures Young outlined. Gowing said all the girls produced was a laminated piece of paper with offers for the magazines.
A few months ago, Denitrice Burton, 21, of Goldsboro, N.C., left her job as a magazine sales agent. She sold door-to-door for two years, but not for United Family Circulations Inc., nor has she sold in Kansas.
Burton answered a classifieds advertisement in her local newspaper that was looking for help to sell books and magazines, with promises of high commission, daily bonuses, on-the-job training and no experience necessary.
Within weeks, Burton’s new boss bought her a bus ticket to meet him and the rest of the “crew” in Connecticut. She met them in a hotel in the outskirts of town, and in the next hour she was on the street, learning the ropes of selling door-to-door.
Much of what the classified ad promised didn’t happen. Burton said she worked between 10 and 12 hours a day, and made only $5-$7 per day.
Hundreds of magazine crews work in the United States, and while many of them may be legitimate, others are not. Through a complicated system, publishing houses contract out to clearing houses that buy the magazines or books wholesale and then contract out to managers. Those managers then hire “agents,” young people like Burton, as independent contractors to sell the magazines.
Up to 50 people can be in a crew. A “car handler” drives them to a neighborhood in a city where they would stay for about two weeks.
Burton said she didn’t have a bad experience personally while she was selling to the “Joneses” — a term for potential magazine buyers — but she witnessed many people who did.
Burton said sometimes the car handler would leave them stranded if they were late to the pick-up time. She said police were also an issue because the manager wouldn’t buy soliciting licenses for the crew.
She compared her crew to a nonviolent gang, and said that they would target college towns mainly.
“It was the most believable story,” she said. “We would research it, learn the mascot and the dean.” Burton left the crew a few months ago.
To avoid the scams, Young offered one more piece of advice.
“If it’s a magazine you’re interested in, there’s always another way to get it,” he said.
Young said people should contact the Lawrence Police Department at 832-7509 if they are approached by the salespeople.