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Educational Consumer Tips

Traveling Sales Crews

Author: Rachel Gelb
Category: Scams

Advertisements which offer good pay, travel with all expenses paid and free training, but which do not explain the job in question are often solicitations directed toward young people. The jobs offered are as part of sales crews which sell products such as cleaning fluid or magazine subscriptions door-to-door.

The advertisements do not usually give the name of the company or the nature of the work, but hint at exciting travel. In most cases, only a local phone number and the name of the recruiter is listed.

Recruiters usually conduct interviews in hotels or motels. There are promises of large earnings and travel to big cities and resorts. The young people are asked to leave to join a team of employees within a few hours or the next day. At this point, few details about the work have been explained. Once the applicant accepts the job and is on the road, he or she finds out what the job requires: door-to-door sales, living in hotels, a lot of fast food or meals in convenience stores and long hours of work.

The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, prompted by allegations of mistreatment of young people, conducted hearings on the subject of traveling sales crews in April 1987. Many former sales agents were interviewed. In his opening statement, Senator William V. Roth, Jr., Chairman of the Subcommittee, remarked that "the evidence that emerged convinced (the Subcommittee) that problems do exist--ones that merit public exposure and scrutiny. While there are certainly legitimate organizations out there and some former sales agents reported favorable experience with the crews, a disturbing number of others described--with striking uniformity--very troublesome situations and unsavory crew leaders--persons who might best be described as merchants of venom." The Subcommittee staff concluded that "...there is a problem out there...the complaints heard by the staff (were) too numerous and disturbing to ignore. Also alarming is the vacuum of accountability in the (publishing) industry for treatment of sales agents."

Testimonies before the Subcommittee by former sales agents recounted the same story. The young people did not receive a salary, but had an "account" managed by a crew manager. Some companies deducted hotel expenses, canceled orders, fines for being late to meetings, fines for low sales days or for being in another crew member's room and food costs from the account. Sales agents did not see copies of their accounts and had no way of keeping track of how much they were earning. Sales agents who testified said they never really made any money. Some were even indebted to the company according to the company's records. Young people also told of feeling intimidated, never being allowed to be alone to make telephone calls, unhealthy diets, marijuana and alcohol use, and extremely long days. They told of being taught exaggerated or untrue sales pitches. For example, some salespeople had to tell customers that they were trying to win a prize, when they were not. Last, former salespeople told of managers ignoring state or local laws requiring registration or permits for transient door-to-door salespeople.

If you are considering working for a traveling sales crew:

·          Obtain, in writing, details about travel, food and housing arrangements, commission rates, bonus programs and how you will receive return transportation.

·          Since some state laws and/or local authorities require door-to-door salespeople to register with them and to immediately show customers identification including the name of the company, find out about applicable laws and how to register, if necessary.

·          If there is a training period, ask who pays for expenses, how long training lasts, and if you will be paid during this time.

·          Ask how much you will be paid and when. If the company keeps your account for you, ask how often you will see it.

·          Ask what happens if a customer cancels an order and whether the charge is deducted from your account.

·          Is your contract for a certain length of time or can you leave and go home anytime you want?

·          Ask how you can be reached by family and friends while traveling.


You should be wary if:

  • The recruiter will not give you details about the work.
  • The recruiter asks you to join a crew and leave town immediately.
  • The recruiter does not give you a detailed written contract.

Resources for Young People and Parents:


·          Parent Watch: 2901 Broadway, New York, NY 10025 (212) 316-5387 a nonprofit organization which has a hotline for information and complaints about specific companies which hire traveling sales crews. Parent Watch will also help young people return home should they be stranded by a sales crew.

·          Traveler's Aid Society. Call directory assistance or look in the phone book. Travelers Aid is a national network which provides shelter and transportation to people who are stranded.

·          Better Business Bureau where the company is located.

·          Operation Home Free: managed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), provides free bus tickets to runaways who want to return home. A young person simply identifies himself as a runaway to a police officer and is given a free bus ticket.

Federal regulations require that for door-to-door sales of $25 or more consumers have the right to cancel, in writing, a transaction up until midnight of the third business day after the day of purchase. The rule also requires the salesperson to tell the consumer of the right to cancel, give a contract or receipt, and give two copies of a notice of cancellation form. If a customer does cancel, the seller must, within 10 days, refund all money paid. The refund includes charges for processing and handling which the customer may have paid, although receipts may indicate that this amount is non-refundable. Even if less than $25 or more, consumers have three business days to cancel. State laws may offer further protection.

In many instances salespersons do not tell consumers of their right to cancel, and in some cases written notice is not given. Often salesperson may not know they are violating the law in not giving such notice.

Prospective customers should ask to see identification. If not sure of the company's reputation, check with Better Business Bureau. Be wary of high pressured sales pitches or charity appeals. Put aside any ill-treatments in order to decide whether or not you really want or need the products offered, and compare the prices of the goods/services with those being offered elsewhere. Check with local authorities (e.g., police, city or county business license departments) to see if the company is properl y registered to do business in your area. You many also want to check with your state attorney general's office to determine state laws that apply to door-to-door sales, or to report any violations of your rights.

About the Author: Rachel Gelb is Communications and Marketing Manager for BBB serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont. Find Rachel on Google +.

Questions and Comments

Comment Submitted 5/29/2015

Raleigh, NC - yesterday, 5/28/15, a young man came to my home (**** **** ************ in N. Raleigh) doing door to door sales of books. The books could only be sold in packages that were $49.00 and up. I asked a lot of questions about the company but did not get a name. I asked if it was a local company & where he was from. He said the company was in Indiana, they (the crew?) were staying in Charlotte, working here. I did not buy anything because I was suspicious. I did some research & learned about the exploitive nature of traveling book/magazine sales companies. I am concerned that this young man (others in his crew) are being exploited. My hope is that this crew can be located & investigated.
Views expressed on this page are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Better Business Bureau.

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