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Los Gatos Police Warn of Door-to-Door Magazine Sales Scams

Town residents advised to ask to see permits, report suspicious activity.

On Aug. 30, Kelly Lynch answered a knock at her door around dinnertime. On her porch, a young woman was peddling magazine subscriptions to supposedly raise money for a college scholarship.

“She said she lived a few blocks over on Cerro Chico and, 'Oh, don't you know my parents?'" recalls Lynch.

Soon the solicitor began asking Lynch personal questions. "Had she ever been to Italy?"

“Something did not feel right. I didn’t want to sign up for magazines, especially not for $60, which is what she was asking. So I said, ‘Look, I don’t want any magazines, but I’d love to help you out,’ and I gave her 20 bucks.” 

The following day Lynch's neighbors, who also live on Vista Del Monte and had been solicited by a magazine seller the same evening, were robbed between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Their home was ransacked, and the thieves stole jewelry, computers and money. Even scarier, the homeowner believes the thieves were inside her home at the time she entered and fled through a sliding glass door into the backyard. 

“The residential burglary is currently being investigated,” says Capt. Alana Forrest. “But at this time, we don’t see a link with door-to-door magazine salesmen.”

Whether local cops find a connection or not, a New York Times article, "For Youths, a Grim Tour on Magazine Crews," detailed the widespread problems with these itinerant sellers and violent crimes involving the sales crews.

According to the article, the industry remains almost entirely unregulated, and on any given day, there are probably about 2,500 people, typically ages 18-24, selling magazines door-to-door. Often, the operations are bogus, meaning you pay money and never receive a single issue.

The article, along with the seasonal proliferation of magazine solicitors around town neighborhoods, serves as an important reminder of how residents must be ever vigilant in protecting their families and homes, according to police.

“We live in a great town full of trusting people, but the reality is there are people out there who can do us harm, so as a rule we want residents to know it's not advisable to invite strangers into their homes,” says Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police Sgt. Kerry Harris.

Any door-to-door salesperson is required by law to display a permit issued by the town of Los Gatos, says Forrest. If a solicitor does not have a permit or appears in any way suspicious, residents are advised to call police. If a solicitor leaves before police arrive, watch to see if the person gets in a car, and write down the license plate number, Harris says.

“If folks feel uncomfortable asking to see a solicitor's permit, we are more than happy to come out and contact the solicitor and find out if they do have a permit,” adds Harris. “If the solicitor does have one, we say, 'Thank you very much,' and if they don't, we have them leave town or give them a citation.”

According to police, the best way to discourage solicitors from coming back to your neighborhood is to not give them money. Police also suggest posting a “no soliciting” sign near your front door. That way you can crack your door, point to the sign and say, “Not interested. Thank you.” Or simply don't answer your door.

Other safety tips? Lock all your windows and doors when you leave. Never put outgoing mail in your mailbox. Take it to the post office or a secure postal box.

Police also caution against mail theft, where thieves can steal mail containing information such as a business check routing number and then manufacture and cash fraudulent documents such as bogus checks. Police recommend residents buy a lockable mailbox to prevent thieves from stealing incoming mail.

Lastly, Neighborhood Watch groups suggest rallying your neighborhood to sign up up for i-neighbors.org/, a website that helps neighbors keep in touch regarding neighborhood crime and suspicious behavior.

Mary Smith September 09, 2011 at 06:35 PM
I don't open the door for solicitors, and I say "not interested" if they call. My personal rule is this: There is absolutely NOTHING you can sell me door-to-door, or over the phone, that I can't find on my own if I so choose.
Kim Ratcliff September 09, 2011 at 09:11 PM
Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Kelly.
Kim Ratcliff September 09, 2011 at 09:11 PM
So true, Mary.
Steve September 10, 2011 at 02:20 AM
I answer the door naked..That usually keeps them from coming back..
Maria Ristow September 14, 2011 at 03:30 PM
And in a week, 1000 Fisher MS students will start selling magazines for their annual fundraiser. My student will only be going to neighbors we know. Hopefully the "no thanks yous" will be polite and the residents mostly clothed!
Kim Ratcliff September 14, 2011 at 06:27 PM
I second that, Maria. Hopefully everyone in town knows our middle schoolers are LEGIT.

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