I thought print was dead
November 1, 2016 3:41 PM   Subscribe

About a year ago I started getting teenagers at my door, claiming to be from an "inner city", out here to get people to buy magazine subscriptions so they can have a better life, etc etc obvious scam etc. In the past month it's ramped up and last week I've had three of these guys at my door. My question isn't so much how can I get them to stop - they're not scary or anything - but how can I help these kids get out of this scheme without giving them money?

I've done my research and the scam is a pretty bad one for the people trapped in the system. I've been to Chicago many times and all of the kids who have come to my door really do speak and act like they're from the city; I have no reason to disbelieve that part of the story at least. But that means that there's multiple groups of these magazine selling companies shipping them out across the country and likely leaving them without a way home or any connections if they don't manage to scam enough people.

I'm in a medium-nice suburb of Seattle, clearly prime sucker territory. I work from home so I'm almost always going to answer my door. I have absolutely no problem telling these guys no way in hell am I buying magazines from them, and having scared a good seven of them so far while in my pj pants and a gross tshirt simply with the power of my dead-eyed glare I'm not at all concerned about getting them to stop wasting their time on my stoop. But I'm worried for them. They're being used and it sucks.

Are there any resources in Seattle or perhaps nationwide, phone numbers, websites, forums for people who have gotten out of these things, that I could print out a bunch of copies of them and give them to the next kids who knock? Addresses of shelters or programs where they can go if they do get left behind? Maybe something much shorter than that Atlantic article I linked to above that's like a solid blurb of "you are being taken horrible advantage of and here is proof"?

That last one is too much to hope for, I know. But it's getting troublesome. I'm worried about some of my more gullible neighbors being scammed, and I'm worried about these kids, who so far have all been young black men, being in harm's way in a city they don't know. Any easily accessed resources would be appreciated.
posted by Mizu to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I had a kid approach me outside an ice cream place selling chocolate with a similar story, once. "blah, blah, blah, keep kids like me off the streets..." The kid was maybe 10 years old. Anyway, in one of my speak-faster-than-I-think moments, I pointed out, "But you ARE on the street." The kid's face fell and I felt so bad that I bought some chocolate.

Anyway, you don't have to buy magazines, but I'm not sure there's much to be gained by taking it up with kids.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:55 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a similar encounter a few years ago, researched it and found the same info you did. The next time I got a magazine-selling kid, I told them I couldn't support their company and wished them well, that I knew they were being pressured for a quota but I couldn't help. They actually had language ready for this: "I'm not being pressured at all, if anything I'm being encouraged to pursue my dreams...." etc.

I wish I had an answer. You can report this to your local police, as solicitors often need licenses for door to door sales. There are also hours restrictions and sometimes financial limits. I Googled "Seattle door-to-door sales" and found some blog posts and informational resources. Certainly, alerting neighbors could help - if the neighborhood becomes unproductive, perhaps they'll go elsewhere. If your neighborhood has a lot of wanna-be do-gooders, maybe a flyer going out to neighbors would help.

If you wanted to reach out to the kids, I just don't know; I think they are really under a lot of control and maybe fear. Perhaps preparing a flyer half-sheet of info about other job resources, safety phone numbers, etc would be something they could use. On the other hand, it might make you stick out from the crowd.
posted by Miko at 4:05 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seattle Door-to-Door Sellers: What You Need to Know Looks like in Oregon the DOJ encourages citizens to report the activity. They also have a listing for a watchdog org that helps these kids and that you can let kids know about, ParentWatch.
posted by Miko at 4:06 PM on November 1, 2016 [10 favorites]

I too get these types of kids at the door and have the same concerns. We don't tend to get the really long-distance travelers, just kids from within the ~80 miles radius of the Los Angeles sprawl.

Last time the husband answered and it was a really young-looking girl (maybe 11 or 12) and she said she was from South Central and looked miserable. My husband said she could use his phone to call someone who could help her, and she refused. So, that didn't work well. I will be watching with interest to see others' strategies.
posted by holyrood at 4:08 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was in college, I fundraised door-to-door for an organization that is known for essentially exploiting the labor of college-aged kids. Nowhere near as badly as those shady magazine-sales companies, more along the lines of Walmart, but still. I would occasionally get people who would say they weren't going to donate because I was being exploited, and frankly that was really frustrating. It felt patronizing. So I would not suggest saying something like that!

I think what I would have responded better to was someone recognizing how hard I was working and offering an alternative. I now know there are other non-profits who run door-to-door canvasses that are a lot less exploitative, for instance - that would have been good to know about! In that vein, I think that parentwatch site looks promising, though I wish it had a better name, since it's hard to imagine a 17-year-old possible-runaway on a magazine crew being interested in a site with that name.
posted by lunasol at 4:35 PM on November 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

About fifteen years ago I used to chat (via AIM, because old school) with someone who was, for part of the time I knew her, on a mag crew. She was definitely there by choice, but probably only because as a young queer teen runaway it was less shitty an option than being at home. Who knows. This was, IIRC, Texas if it makes any difference.

But anyway, I got the feeling that she knew what she was doing, and so did the other kids she was with. We don't really get anything comparable here in the UK but if I was in your shoes I'd just politely decline to buy anything, and maybe encourage my neighbours to do the same. Perhaps use the resources you've already found or been given in other answers to explain why buying from these kids isn't helping them in the long run.

It's a small gesture and probably won't achieve anything but move the mag crew on to the next town, but maybe if enough people understand how the only people who really benefit from this are the guys running the show, perhaps it'll tip it into being a less profitable way for them to spend their time.
posted by A Robot Ninja at 4:42 PM on November 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

We haven't seen many in our small town, but when we do we say that we don't buy things that are being sold door to door by young people, and then we give the kid a $20 bill and wish them good luck. If they acted extremely frightened while trying to sell to us, I might ask if there was anything I could do to help, but beyond that -- well, we just don't know enough about their life to be looking for alternatives.

For what it's worth, a friend's son and daughter-in-law met in one of these crews, married, and are now running a couple of them. It got them out of deadend jobs (him) and grinding poverty in tiny mountain town (her); they are extremely proud of their new lives, and feel they are an example to the kids they hire.
posted by kestralwing at 6:56 PM on November 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your efforts may be better spent trying to help kids who need it in your area, rather than these specific individuals. They aren't in a great situation, but you aren't encountering them at a reasonable intervention point. Maybe look into donating to or volunteering with an organization that helps kids as they age out of foster care, or similar groups.
posted by ewok_academy at 7:14 PM on November 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

FWIW, some stories on this phenomenon, from the NY Times & Atlantic.
posted by kmennie at 12:39 AM on November 2, 2016

'American Honey' Trains Its Lens On Traveling Magazine Crews. Interesting NPR piece about the movie that focuses on this culture.
posted by luckyveronica at 12:45 PM on November 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

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