Sunday, February 25, 2007

Getting Scammed

The other day I got scammed. And the stupid thing is, I had a very strong sense it was happening while it was happening, and I just went along with it.

On Friday afternoon, two girls knocked on my front door. As soon as I saw them, I know I got that "oh, crap" look on my face, because they told me "oh, don't worry, we're your neighbors." That got me to come outside and talk to them. The fact is, a lot of students live on our street, and I have no idea what any of them actually look like. Then they told me their under-17 girls' soccer team had qualified to play in a tournament in Orlando, Florida, and they were raising money to go. Suspicious point number 1: these girls definitely looked older than 16 -- but I wasn't really thinking about that at the time.

They pulled out a dog-eared leaflet and assured me that it wasn't magazine subscriptions -- it was sets of books, their coach had gotten them hooked up with Borders somehow, and the books were really nice and if I didn't want a set for myself, I could send them to the women's shelter, that's what a lot of their customers had been doing, etc. At this point, I was totally ignoring everything that was a little fishy about this (clearly this had no connection to Borders; sets of books are actually worse than magazine subscriptions; the girls are talking fast and keep evading my question of how much the books cost) and hearing what I want to: raising money for the soccer trip to Florida, donating books to a women's shelter. I like to donate to worthy causes, and these girls are so nice and friendly. I want to believe them.

Finally they give me a price, around $34, and I agree to send a set of set of books to the women's shelter. One of them sits down on the bench on my porch (after asking if it's okay; the other keeps telling me their coach says they have to come back and do me some other kind of favor, like washing my car) and I chat with the other girl. I ask her how long she's played soccer. She says 14 years. If she's about 16, that means she's been played soccer since she was 2? But I don't do the math till later. The girl continues spinning some tale about her father being in the military, which doesn't seem to have anything to do with playing soccer. I write out a check to "Kays Naturals" as instructed. My total is $48. I think that's a lot for shipping and handling, but still go along.

The girls thank me profusely as I hand them the check. One of them asks me about my nosering. The other, who has a nosering, comments on how painful getting her nose pierced was. They tell me they only have one more house to go to before they're done and I wonder which of my neighbors they're going to go suck up to next. As they are backing down my front walk, one of them asks if they can send me a postcard from Brazil. Brazil? They realize their mistake immediately. "Oh, sorry, Orlando!" one says! "We went to Brazil last year!" Unfortunately, at the same time, the other blurts out "we're going to Brazil after!" My eyes narrow, they hurry off, and I go inside.

Amazingly, I still think about it for a while. Sure, there were a few lies in there, but maybe a set of nice books is going to arrive from a women's shelter? Don't be stupid, I tell myself. I take the receipt they've given me, and right there in black and white it says that the person from whom I received it won't earn points toward the trip they are working for if I cancel my order. It's the whole "young people earning points/trying to win a contest" BS that I know how to spot a mile away -- I've been turning these people away from my doorstep for years. How could I have fallen for it? I Google "Kays Naturals" and found several items about this particular scam, including this warning:


I filled out the info on the back to cancel my order and wrote a little note indicating that I knew I'd been lied to. Then I got online with my bank and cancelled the check, just to be on the safe side. I certainly don't trust them to cancel my order. So in the end, no harm done -- these people aren't getting my money. Still, I can't stop thinking about it. I've actually had the desire to drive around and see if I can spot these girls, just to confront them and tell them "hey, I'm not stupid -- do you really think I didn't know you were lying to me?" Somehow, their discovering at some other place and time that I stopped payment on my check isn't nearly satisfying enough.

This whole episode makes me wonder:

Why did I just go along with it? I knew early on that many things weren't right, but apparently I was still made just socially uncomfortable enough in these situations to just smile and go along, despite having developed the assertiveness to say "no thanks" and close the door on people just like them years ago. All I can say at this point is, it won't happen to me again. I'm envisioning the next time one of these kids comes to my door and wondering what I'll say.

The other question is, who are these kids, and why do they want to do this kind of work? It turns out there's plenty of information about them online, and they are being exploited as much as their potential customers. The sleazy "travelling magazine sales crew" industry rounds up young people with promises of travel and easy money, then subjects them to all manner of dangers and abuses. To read more, see and visit

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