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Help slam the door on sales crew abuses
Wisconsin State Journal - Madison Wisconsin
Posted: 6:44 PM 6/12/03
Copyright 2003 By Wisconsin State Journal

The traveling sales crew industry has returned to Wisconsin to abuse its employees, cheat its customers - and worse. It's up to every household to fight back. Here's how.

First, young people and their parents should reject the recruiting pitches of traveling sales crew businesses. These companies employ teen-agers and college-age people to sell magazines or other products door-to-door. Their come-ons often refer to travel, wealth and scholarships, but all too often crew members end up broke and stranded, or victims of assault or accidents.

Wisconsin learned that lesson in 1999, when a van carrying 14 sales crew members rolled over on Interstate 90 near Janesville. Seven young people were killed. The driver of the van was a 20-year-old serial traffic offender whose license was suspended. The company employing the crew was cited by state officials for 92 violations of employment and wage laws.

Recent headlines from around the country further illustrate the point: "16-year-old selling candy robbed, shot," and "Magazine seller reports rape," are typical.

If you, or a member of your family, have been contacted by a recruiter, call state consumer protection officials at (800) 422-7128. They can offer information about the dangers of joining a crew.

Second, don't buy from a traveling sales crew. With few exceptions, the sales pitches are misrepresentations. If you feel comfortable enough with the salesperson, give him or her the phone number for Parent Watch, a nonprofit clearinghouse for information about the abuse of young people in the traveling sales crew industry. That number is (212) 666-4221.

But use good judgment. While the salesperson you open your door to might be a kid in need of help, there is a risk that the salesperson is a criminal who has decided a sales crew is a good place to hide. Another recent headline speaks to that: "Magazine salesman pleads guilty to murder, rape." The safest course is to keep your door shut.

In addition, you should call the authorities immediately to report the sales crew's activity. A police officer can check whether the sales business has a permit in your community, if one is required, as it is in Madison. If the salesperson is under 18, the police can determine if the business has the proper certification for employment of minors.

After the 1999 van crash, the traveling sales crew industry toned down its activity in Wisconsin. But last year reports of recruiting and door-to-door calls began to increase, and the increase has continued this spring.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that traveling sales crews are on the increase nationwide as sales businesses look for alternatives to telemarketing in the wake of restrictions like Wisconsin's "Do not call" list.

Federal legislation would help to rein in the industry's abuses. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., sponsored a bill that the Senate passed last fall. The bill left too many loopholes for the industry to drive through, but it was a start. Similar legislation is pending in the House, which would be wise to make sure its version is stronger.

Meantime, the best way to halt the reckless behavior of traveling sales crew businesses is to deprive them of the two things they want: employees and sales. That's a task Wisconsin families can help accomplish. is operated by Madison Newspapers Inc., publishers of the Wisconsin State Journal, The Capital Times, Agri-View and Apartment Showcase. All contents Copyright ©, Madison Newspapers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wisconsin State Journal

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