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BEWARE: Latest Scam Is Door-to-Door 'Cooking School' Sales

Youth pose as students of L’École Culinaire to sell phony magazine subscriptions, Better Business Bureau says.

Better Business Bureau just released this warning:

St. Louis area residents should be alert for a new door-to-door magazine sales scam involving young people posing as students of L’École Culinaire, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.

L’École Culinaire is a legitimate cooking school in St. Louis, but magazine sales door-to-door is a fraud.

James Grover, campus director for L'École Culinaire, said the salespeople do not represent the school. “None of our students would be out doing that,” Grover said.

A homeowner in the 5400 block of Pernod Avenue, in the city’s North Hampton neighborhood, said she was approached by a young man and woman last week who asked her to buy magazine subscriptions to be sent to servicemen and women overseas. They told her that they were enrolled at the well-known culinary school in St. Louis County and were raising money to further their studies in Italy.

The homeowner said she became suspicious when she asked the young woman for the name of the street where she lived and the woman replied that she did not know. “My mom takes me everywhere I need to go,” the woman responded.

The South St. Louis resident described the young man as "personable and outgoing." The young woman, more reserved. Both said they left their identification in the car. The resident later spoke with a neighbor, who had also been approached by the couple.

Michelle Corey, Better Business Bureau president and CEO, said the bogus magazine ploy is the latest in a series of door-to-door sales scams that are either based in the St. Louis area or based elsewhere but have victimized local residents.

“Spring brings out the ice cream trucks, the backyard gardeners and, unfortunately, the ripoff artists,” Corey said. “Anytime a stranger approaches your door with a good story and a magazine subscription list is a good time to get a tighter grip on your pocketbook.”

Victims

The BBB has investigated several recent cases in which homeowners said they were duped by door-to-door salespeople:

  • Over the past 12 months, consumers across the nation have lodged nearly 150 complaints against the door-to-door magazine subscription business Urban 1, which listed its address as a P.O. Box in St. Louis. The complainants said they ordered magazines that were never delivered. They never received refunds from the company. 
  • Three years ago this month, homeowners in Kirkwood and North St. Louis County fell victim to a magazine sales scam involving a young man claiming that he was raising money for teammates to attend an out-of-town baseball tournament. Those buyers never received magazines or refunds.
  • In recent years, the BBB has reported on door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales scams and security alarm representatives who allegedly misled consumers about their services, contract requirements and even the identity of their company.

Best practices

The BBB offers the following tips for consumers approached by door-to-door salespeople:

  • High-pressure tactics are often a part of fraudulent door-to-door sales and solicitations.  Don’t let yourself be hurried, intimidated or coerced.
  • If you think you might be interested in buying from a door-to-door seller, get everything in writing, including price, warranty and all conditions.  Tell the salesperson you will check over the information and get back to him or her.
  • Always ask for identification before listening to the pitch and make sure that a solicitor has any required permits to sell in your neighborhood.  If you have any question, contact your local government.
  • Never let a stranger inside your home. If a salesperson refuses to take no for an answer, contact police.
  • Research a business thoroughly before making a decision.
  • Check out the company’s BBB Business Review by going to www.bbb.org or calling 314-645-3300.

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