Be prepared and protect yourself from traveling teams of young people selling everything from magazines to household cleaning products. Traveling sales crews are very different from your neighborhood children going door-to-door selling candy for a local school function. These crews travel in teams from city to city and state to state, far from home. While companies should ensure their employees are taken care of and the products being sold are delivered, this is not always the case. Some companies make their profits by overworking and abusing their young workers, and taking consumers’ money and orders but not sending any products.
Here are some tips to help keep young people and consumers from falling victim to unscrupulous door-to-door traveling sales crews.
Working for a Traveling Sales Crew
A young person might think that being part of a traveling sales crew is an exciting way to gain valuable face-to-face sales experience and earn some money. Unfortunately, reality is that unethical companies recruit unwary youths with ads promising “nationwide travel, all expenses paid, and high commissions”, and then subject them to questionable, and even dangerous, working conditions. Often crew members are abandoned - alone, penniless and stranded in another state. The harsh working conditions crew members are subjected to daily include:
- Long days on their feet, walking neighborhoods from morning until dark
- No place to rest until pick-up at night
- No guidance or adult supervision during the day
- Early morning and late night training sessions
- Poor tracking of sales and commissions
- Pay deductions for hotels, travel, meals
- Pay deductions for canceled orders and fines for “misconduct”
- Crew members having to work to pay off debts to the company
- Inconsistent (or no) delivery of the products sold by the company
- Physical, psychological, or even sexual abuse
Horror stories from previous crew members detail that privileges like eating or earning a bed at night are only granted after obtaining a certain number of sales or checks. With a relentless emphasis on sales and commissions, the crew members are pressured to make promises or deals that can’t be kept in order to get a sale. And then, after failing to meet a company’s sales expectations, the crew members recount their fear and desperation after being abandoned in a city or town far from home, with no money.
Anyone considering working for a traveling sales crew should exercise extreme caution and research the company first. Any company that will not or cannot provide easily the following information in writing should be avoided:
- The company’s name, address, website, and direct phone number
- The name, title, phone number of the primary contact responsible for work teams
- The name and phone number of the company President or Chief Executive Officer
- The work hours/days and time off
- The base salary or hourly wage, and how and when it is paid
- Commission rates and bonus programs
- The sales goals per person day, week, or month
- What happens if sales goals are not met
- How sales, salary, and commissions are tracked, and by whom
- Employment status – is the crew member an employee or independent contractor
- The quality of, and costs for, travel, meals, and housing
- The arrangements for laundry and basic facilities
- How is money for living expenses, like toiletries, handled
- How meals, breaks, and days off are scheduled
- What provisions are made for inclement weather or extreme heat
- How crew members are supervised during or after work
- What kind of protection or security is provided (do the crew members work in pairs, teams, with an adult, or alone?)
- What happens if the crew member is robbed of the money they collected or the products they were selling?
- Does the company have insurance to cover accidents and illness
- Who does the driving, and do drivers have to meet any requirements
- What is their travel schedule (what cities/states on which dates)
- Will crew members be selling in towns requiring permits, and if so, who arranges these permits
- How friends and family can contact the crew member
- Who arranges and pays for transportation home
Also ask for a copy of the following documents and examine them carefully:
- The company’s cancellation, return, and refund policies on items sold
- The company’s sales pitch
- The required notice advising the consumer of his right to cancel within a three-day cooling off period
Thoroughly read the contract terms and make sure you understand them. Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau in your state and in the state where the business is headquartered. Visit the Direct Selling Association’s (DSA) website to see if the company is a member.
If the company is pressuring you or a young person you know to make a decision to join a traveling sales crew immediately, walk away. Take time to think things through and consider the options. Good jobs are hard to find, but bad or unsafe jobs should be avoided.
Purchasing from a Door-to-Door/Traveling Sales Person
Buying things at your door can be an impulse purchase, but a little preparation can ensure you don’t “act in haste, repent in leisure." Taking basic steps can reduce the risk of falling victim to a scam:
- Don’t open your door to strangers after dark, especially if you are alone
- Never invite strangers into your home - they could survey the layout and your possessions
- Ask for an ID card that confirms the salesperson’s relationship to the company
- Request their local sales permit (your local police department can confirm if door-to-door sales people are required to carry a permit)
- Ask where they live – listen for clues that indicate that the person is from out-of-town or are unfamiliar with your town; if so, they might be part of a traveling sales crew
- Ask about the delivery time frame – most magazine subscriptions don’t start for weeks, if not months. The sales crew will be long gone before delivery should commence, and if it does not, you might be unable to recoup your investment.
- Look beyond the sales pitch that plays on your sympathy: “I’m working toward a scholarship”; “raising money for school”; “it’s a contest for a prize”; “raising money for charity.” If the charity or non-profit is one you recognize, call them to verify this program. If it’s not a charity you know or can verify, it might be a scam.
- Ask for the company name, address, phone number, and website:
- Call the phone number to see if you reach a live person or answering machine. This could indicate what you would go through if you placed an order.
- If the company only has a P.O. Box, be careful - they could be difficult to contact or track down if there are any issues with your order.
- Check the website to see if it works and to learn more about the company.
- Check the BBB to see if any complaints have been reported.
- Confirm that the company is a member with the Direct Selling Association.
- Compare prices for similar products to ensure the item is not overpriced
- Ask about their cancellation, return, and refund policy
- Read the complete contract or sales agreement before signing
- Documents should be clear, understandable, and professional
- Never give cash or your credit card number at the door
- Were you informed about the three-day cooling off period/right to cancel
- If you are interested, but need time to reflect or do research, ask the salesperson to return later or another day. Most legitimate direct sellers will schedule an appointment.
- If you feel you are being pressured, say you’re not interested
- If they won’t take "no" for an answer, close the door and call the police
- If the sales person looks underfed or abused, call the police so they can investigate
If you make a purchase, get a copy of the order/contract/receipt, which should include:
- the name, address and phone number of the business
- the terms and conditions for returning a product or canceling an order
- the complete list of items purchased, quantity, price, tax, and total
Making purchases at home can be convenient, but understand the risks associated with purchasing from a transient person.