By: Revanche

Scammy scam scam?

October 30, 2010

Last Saturday, a strange young man knocked on my front door and earnestly asked if I’d take a free trial for a local newspaper for eight weeks to help him go to college.  He was just trying to earn a scholarship for college, he said, and he just needed me to sign up, no money needed. 

He said he couldn’t leave the sign up form with me overnight because his counselor collected them every day, but all he needed was for me to sign up.  He’d take care of the fees himself, and that would earn him a $500 scholarship for college.

When asked which apartment he lived in, he gave an apartment number two floors up. 

He did even try the “well, even the guy downstairs who doesn’t speak much English helped me out, he signed up,” waving a filled out form vaguely in my direction.  [Translation: he was much easier to convince because he couldn’t understand the implications of what I might be trying to pull.]

Though he seemed nice enough, I was put off by a number of things.  The fact I couldn’t place his face, the fact he gave no identification or the school he was with, he refused to leave the paperwork overnight, and the whole deal didn’t really make much sense.  None of these were really conclusive signs of anything: I have a terrible memory for faces, don’t recognize half of PiC’s friends and coworkers with whom I’ve been out socially, and if he was an earnest teenager he wouldn’t necessarily know to win suspicious people over by presenting identification.  Nevertheless, while I’m a bad people person, I’m also not the easiest person to scam specifically because I naturally don’t have a trusting nature.  Even if I had allowed for all of the above and overlooked it (which I won’t), I didn’t like the idea of handing over my name and address to a complete stranger upon solicitation.

I won’t give it someone who seems official conducting a survey, why would I give that information to a kid literally come in off the street? 

While there’s not a lot one could do with a simple name and address on the surface of it, that’s always a start if they wanted a name, address and a signature to start an identity theft ring. 

The next day, a notice went out that the kid was part of a twosome who was confronted by a building manager and it was revealed that neither of them did in fact live in the building. Their business, then, was even if it wasn’t a scam, at the very least, not legitimate in the sense they were lying to the residents to gain their trust.

Do you think you would have been as bothered by all the little rather intangible things as I was? They were all gut instincts but even I thought they were a bit tenuous at the time.

23 Responses to “Scammy scam scam?”

  1. yesssss. My husband got conned out of a small amount of money years ago. I was screaming, “He’s a conman” to no avail. The police laughed when I called–he was a familiar figure.

    The same husband gave someone collecting for greenpeace our credit card #!!! I made him go down the street and get it back.

    I would have asked him the name of the school so I could call in.

  2. Definitely sketchy

    Not being able to give me the name of their school makes me distrust them, as does the fact he wasn’t familiar in the building and it sounded too good to be true — just sign up and he gets $500? No freaking way.

    Then again, like you… I mistrust everyone I don’t know. Comes from my nature of not wanting to sign anything or agree to anything with a paper.

  3. Jackie says:

    Always go with your gut! It tells you things for a reason 🙂

  4. Something similar happened to me a few years back. I also turned them away. :/

  5. We have a phone scam going on now where a survey taker calls homes where they already have their credit card information from the mail or internet somehow. They get the person to say “yes” and record them and then take out large amounts from their credit card saying the person authorized the purchases.

    I also do Western Union at work and scammers are calling confused elderly people and telling them their granchild is in jail in Canada and they need to send thousands to a person to get them out. We called for help for one lady who almost passed out in our store while she was trying to send $4000.00 to someone she didn’t know in Canada. She thanked us when she came back to the store to pick up her cash which she left sitting on our counter.

    You were so right to be concerned. New scams are being thougt up every day.

  6. Sketchy.
    Even if they COULD produce ID, I still wouldn’t trust him. But I live in Toronto and I’ve been trained by my parents to be suspicious. ^_^;

  7. Shelley says:

    If someone knocks on my door and wants anything from me, I’m immediately on my guard. There are a million stories around here of little old ladies being done out of cash, robbed of their savings, burgled and assaulted in their homes. Anything at all shady and my porch door stays shut. I’m not that old and frail yet, but I’m hoping naivete isn’t automatic with increasing age.

  8. I think gut feelings happen for a reason. . I try to always listen to it regardless of how small it is.

  9. Ruth says:

    I had to make a gut call today on something like that. Was at a gas station when a rather disheveled lady came up to me with a hospital bracelet on and explained that she’d just gotten out of very nearby hospital and didn’t have enough gas to get to X (about 10 miles away). She was driving an old beater & showed me her bracelet from the hospital.

    It felt sketchy but I had a quick think. In this case, it wasn’t giving out any personal info or a signature, it was essentially someone asking for a handout in the form of gas.

    After thinking about it, I decided that if I bought her 2 gal of gas, it’d be less than $6 and more than enough to get her to X and to any nearby gas station from her home if she was indeed going to X. And if all of it wasn’t true, I could afford the < $6. I don't have a lot, but I'm also not a disheveled, worn-down woman in my 50s driving a beater and asking for handouts at a gas station. I have a job I like that pays me enough to live on. So even if it was all some kind of play, it was something I could live with and it might actually do her a little good. But had it involved giving away any personal info…I would’ve nixed it. I also say no to the campaigners with clipboards who try to solicit downtown DC workers to join this or that cause. Too much chance for fraud–if I want to support something/give to something, I’ll do it online!

  10. Most of the kids going door to door soliciting subscriptions are either scammers themselves or victims of scammers.

    The crooks hire kids telling them they’ll get some sort of prize if they sell enough subscriptions, and of course the kids never see much of anything, including any pay for the hours of work they put it. Often they’ll take ghetto kids far from home, drop them off in a neighborhood, leave them there for several hours, and then (maybe) come back for them. So you’ve got grade school kids wandering around an unfamiliar neighborhood going up to who-knows-whose door with no one around to keep on eye on things.


    Interesting story from Ruth. Six bucks worth of gas? Maybe. But not six bucks for her to pump the gas herself. 😉

  11. Revanche says:

    @FS: Oh my goodness, no passing out of credit card numbers is ever allowed!

    @FB: Apparently they tailored their story to the tenants involved. Apparently I didn’t look like the sucker who would care about the sports program they were “selling” to the other tenants.

    @Jackie, stackingpennies, Nicole, AP, iamtheworkingpoor, Shelley, Debt Free Girl: Even though most cases validate my suspicions, I am still a little disappointed in the fact that my gut had something to react to. I wish the world were a better place with better people in it.

    @Ruth: I could live with that – buying gas or food for someone who would use it is fine. Putting myself or my family at risk for identity theft or fraud, definitely not.

    @FaM: It’s tough for me to be ok with it from either side. If I were a parent in today’s world, I couldn’t fathom just letting my kid run around alone knocking on strangers’ doors.

  12. It’s not necessarily a scam, you may get the magazines or newspapers, but the stories are almost always made up. The kids are driven in vans from city to city, and they only get paid some money for food. Most of their earnings are kept on a ledger and is probably never paid out. If they don’t sell enough subscriptions, they even lose money.

    I feel bad for the kids, but buying subscriptions from them doesn’t really help them. It’s not a way out for them.

    See this story from the Houston Press:

  13. Rob of NYC says:

    I was one of ‘those’ saving for college. Out of a group of 15 that were there my first morning, I was the only that was going to college (next year). But, my parents were paying for my education, not this “job”.

    To begin, we spent time on how to get them to listen. Don’t start out your selling anything, start out by lying and say this is a survey (I doubt they are still allowed to do this). If a person says I don’t want to buy anything, you say I am not selling anything.

    I hope the “crews” are different now. I met some of the slimiest characters. My folks had my quit by the middle of the week when I told them what was going on.

    Are there some that are honest, probably. But are they many, many that will say anything to make sale – yes – and I believe they are the majority.

    Besides, who gets a newspaper anymore?

  14. Anonymous says:

    “I didn’t like the idea of handing over my name and address to a complete stranger upon solicitation.”

    A good thought, but if he knocked on your door, he has your address. And if he has access to the internet, your mailbox, or your trash, he could have your name.

    You say you’re not trusting by nature, but you handed over a lot of trust even by opening the door. You’re assuming some level of sophistication to the scam — what if the guy just wanted to find vulnerable looking people home alone? Or get a peek inside your place to see if there might be anything worth breaking in later for?

  15. oldtaku says:

    This one’s easy – all those door to door magazine and candy salesmen are scams. They’re driven from neighborhood to neighborhood in kidnap vans and are coached on whatever lies they have to tell you to cough up for their hugely overpriced crud.


  16. Anonymous says:

    The only people welcome at my home are people who have been invited there. If I’m not expecting you in some way, you can go screw yourself. Door to door salespeople are almost always scammers, and I find it highly offensive that someone thinks that simply because my home is located on a public street that they have a license to peddle their snake oil on my private property.

  17. Dr. Grossman says:

    You probably would have ended up with very very expensive subscriptions to magazines and services you had no want for, with great difficulty in breaking the contract. It’s a common scam. You did the right thing.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I work in door to door sales of a legitimate kind. A good number of adults who apply for a sales job learned to sell doing this. They are great at sales but often lack ethics and are jaded.
    The subscription companies drive a van load of kids up to the suburbs on a cold wet day, they tell them not to come back to the van until they’ve sold 10 magazines and that they need to sell 15 to get paid. They fan out a stack of $100s totaling between 2 and 3 thousand dollars and promise it to the top seller. One of the “kids” is working the con and has pre-filled out forms and always wins the cash.
    Most kids will hustle out 10 sales and head back to the van (keep in mind they only come out when the weather is bad so kids quit before they reach 15 sales).
    With a van load of kids they will get 100 sales and pay out nothing. We had one employee who sold 20 newspaper subscriptions a day for 3 weeks before the con artists moved on. He went back and re-knocked on every door he sold to and re-signed them up for real subscriptions. He re-signed all but 5 people and ended up landing a sales job with the local newspaper.

  19. Ben says:

    I’ve fallen for this one before—and while I didn’t have an experience like FS’s husband, I did end up with a newspaper subscription I thought I had canceled, which ended up with a Collection Agency. So for your credit, and your heart (maybe), just say no to paper subscription as a form of charity.

    If you’re really hurting for the guy, hand him a sawbuck and send him on his way.

  20. Anonymous says:

    First of all, let’s use a little common sense here little miss guilt ridden.

    Have you ever in your life heard of a college scholarship tied to newspaper subscriptions? What would a college counselor have to do with selling newspaper subscriptions?? What possible connection could their be between academia and selling newspapers?

    I believe the answer to all of these questions is ABSOLULTELY NOTHING.

    The whole point of this particular sales pitch is to cause this very kind of reaction. They want your emotional response to outweigh your logical response. Imagine that it worked!

  21. Revanche says:

    @oldtaku: Thanks for the link, I hadn’t seen that article.

    @anon commenters: Feel free to actually read my post. I don’t feel guilty about turning the kid away – the “feels guilty” was Phil’s commentary. I simply wondered if anyone else would have reacted the same way to the spiel.

  22. Yu Hwang says:

    This happened to me 2 nights ago. He was able to share his high school & what college he was attending. But as soon as I told him I already had a Sunday paper, he backed off. However, I remember the times when my school had me knocking on neighbors doors selling useless things or candy or girl scouts cookies. So I took pity on him & bought 2 little restaurant gift cards. I’m tracking his movements & if he fails to return with my gift cards I’m simply canceling the card so no big deal. But I just think it’s admirable that they are motivated enough to venture out there in times such as now where we live in such an untrusting world.

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