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I never thought this would happen to me
Sam Bates
Antelope Staff

College students be warned. I got scammed, and you could too.

It was a Monday like any other. A friend and I went to get gas at the gas station next to campus and upon pulling up to the pump, we were met with a knock on the driver’s window. The window was cracked and a 20-something female named “Leslie” said that she was looking for non-aggressive college students to help her out. I figured that she was doing some type of survey, so we agreed and got out of the car.

That was my first mistake.

She then proceeded to tell us that she was a student at UNK, and she was selling magazine subscriptions for a communications class. Leslie said she was in a contest with the boys in the class, and she needed us to buy subscriptions, so she could get the points needed to win.

My first thought was, “I don’t have any money to spend on magazines.”

I think Leslie read my mind because she started talking about the great value of the subscription. Each four-year subscription cost around $50. In my head, that was a heck of a bargain. Unfortunately for me, there was one magazine, Spin, which I had read before and was interested in buying. Leslie strongly recommended, Spin because it gave her the most points.

We were also given the option of donating a subscription to a children’s hospital.

She said when we donated we would get something in return. We asked what that was, and Leslie responded, “A warm, fuzzy feeling right in here,” and placed her hand over her heart. She was good, really good.

After about 15 minutes of discussion with Leslie, my friend and I decided to split the price of Spin. Leslie was thrilled, but she didn’t stop there. She somehow convinced me to write a check for Family Fun, and she said when the company called to verify the subscription I could cancel it, but Leslie would still get her points.

As I was about to write out my check for Family Fun, I got a major feeling that I should tell Leslie that I didn’t have any checks. I had a sense that it was a scam— but did I listen to my intuition? No, I wrote her a $55 check instead. I’m still kicking myself.

Overall, Leslie got $106 in checks from my friend and I. As her shady van drove away, I got another feeling that I should write down the license plate number, but once again I didn’t listen to my gut reaction.

Driving away from the gas station, we both felt as if we had just made a huge mistake. We turned to Google, which confirmed our suspicions. The receipt stated that the company was Atlantic Circulation, Inc., which yields hundreds of Google results of grievances complaining that they never received magazines that they paid solicitors for. I found that this company has been around since September 1998 and is not endorsed by the Better Business Bureau.

Later that evening, my friend filed a police report. We both put stop payments on our checks which was a $28 fee, but that’s less than $55, and it made us feel better that “Leslie” (if that’s even her real name) would not be cashing our checks.

The saddest part of the whole situation is that many times with companies like this, the solicitors are also the victims. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the organizer, such as Atlantic Circulation, employ young people because they need temporary jobs and can play on the sympathy of others. “These young people often make little or no money in wages despite the help-wanted advertisements luring them with claims of big money and fun and travel,” states a BBB reliability report filed in the Washington, D.C. and the Eastern Pennsylvania region.

The BBB report states, “The National Consumers League estimates that 50,000 children nationwide are involved in traveling sales crews selling consumer items door-to-door and on city street corners. The youth groups are transported hundreds of miles from their homes, often across state lines.” In some cases, the end result is much worse than these children being scammed.

In October of last year, the remains of Jennifer Hammond of Colorado were found in New York, six years after she was reported missing. Hammond had been traveling with Atlantic Circulation and failed to show up at the designated meeting place. Her belongings were left in an Albany hotel and investigators later found that she had arranged for a bus ticket from New York to Colorado but never picked up the ticket.

Other stories like Hammond’s have been reported around the country. Many times kids are just left thousands of miles from home, with no money and expected to fend for themselves. Such indecency towards employees should result in the extinction of these companies, but they continue to exist, scamming customers and employees alike.

My point in all of this, is not that I’m peeved about my stupidity in not listening to my intuition, but that we need to be wary of door-to-door (or in my case gas station-to-gas station) solicitors that claim to be a part of a local organization or school. They may seem 100 percent legitimate, but that doesn’t mean they are.

Do your research. Ask them questions that they haven’t rehearsed the answers to. Use Google or another search engine to figure out the background of this company.

In my case, the receipt didn’t even have a Web address, but when I called their phone number and they didn’t answer, they gave me a web address to a very small website that seemed more of a joke than anything else. A photo link took me to pictures titled, “July 2005 Contest Winners” of people on a boat. How this even applied to the website is still beyond me. A list of frequently asked questions gave the site a little more credibility but not enough to convince me of any legitimacy.

Please don’t make the same mistakes that my friend and I, along with thousands of others over the past decade, have made. And don’t think that it won’t happen to you. That’s what I thought before I had to pay $28 for a check that includes my bank information— and that somebody that may or may not be named Leslie could still have.

Leslie, if you’re reading this, I want my check back.

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