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Oliver: Be careful when scam artists come knocking

One evening last week, there was a knock on the door.

Before me stood a casually dressed young woman who had been in the sun all day, by the looks of her sunburn.

She launched into a spiel about going to Indiana University in the fall and working her way toward a scholarship. She just needed two more people to talk to her to earn a few more points for the day.

By “talk to her,” she meant buy magazines. Only she didn’t say that right away.

I asked whether she was with one of those magazine sales “crews” that drop young people off into neighborhoods.

Oh no, she assured me. She wasn’t with those people who were trying to earn trips. She just wanted to go to school to become a special education teacher.

I asked where she went to school to see whether she was local.

She had gone to school in North Carolina. But she had been living in “Arlington” for the past couple of years. Arlington? As in Heights? Things were not adding up, I thought to myself.

All I had to do was pick out a couple of magazines to send to veterans or children’s hospitals.

Ah, yes, magazines that I would never be able to prove went to the people she said they would.

My reluctance brought a compliment of my outfit.

That tactic just made me resolved to send her away without a sale.

As it turns out, magazine sales, particularly those involving young people who claim to be earning trips and scholarships, are a prime area for scams.

In fact, there’s really no way to know who is legitimate and who is a con artist.

According to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, if you do want to buy a magazine subscription, make sure you get the total price, including tax, and any credit or finance charges. If there are any special conditions or payment schedules, those need to be spelled out.

Read the entire sales contract. Anything you sign can be a legally binding contract, so make sure it includes the date of sale, the seller’s name, the company’s street address and phone number, and a notice of cancellation form explaining your three-day right to cancel the transaction.

The Better Business Bureau also offers this advice to avoid being scammed:

• Be wary of high-pressure sales pitches.

• Practice your refusal script before opening the door. Saying, “I never make those decisions without consulting my spouse” might be enough to make the salesperson move on.

• Always research the company with the BBB at bbb.org before writing a check. You can file complaints against fraudulent sales there, too.

Be aware that magazine sales aren’t the only scams that might show up at your door. According to the AARP, others are meat sales, “free” energy audits, outdoor home maintenance, voter surveys and registration and medical wellness checks.

Remember, legitimate groups – sales and otherwise – won’t try to enter your home, and they won’t press you for personal information.

And if you just can’t say no to someone face-to-face, you can always just not answer the door.

Better that than to be scammed.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at joliver@shawmedia.com.

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