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It's spring: Beware of magazine crews

Justice Department warns that season brings dodgy door-to-door activity

The Oregon Department of Justice last week sent a warning to police chiefs around Oregon: With spring will come the obnoxious and often fraudulent wave of door-to-door magazine sales crews.

It's the first time in years that the Department of Justice has sent such a letter about a long-standing industry with a sordid history.

Jan Margosian, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said department officials wanted to remind police agencies about the industry practices, and about ways the sales crews might violate business and other rules that the Department of Justice enforces.

'It was just time to remind them that we're here and this is what we do and this is what our interest is,' Margosian said of Department of Justice officials. 'If they know we're looking for these things and they spot a crew, they'll know where to go with information.'

The door-to-door magazine sales crews are part of an industry that is largely unregulated and that can be not only fraudulent - buyers of magazine subscriptions often don't get their magazines - but dangerous.

In the last three decades, at least 32 young door-to-door magazine sales agents have died in vehicle accidents, most of them multiple-victim accidents caused by sleepy, drunken, reckless or unlicensed drivers who have been transporting the crews from state to state.

And industry watchers cite more than 275 known felony charges against the agents themselves in the past couple of decades, including dozens of sexual assaults against women who answer their doors to the agents.

One of the more recent assaults apparently linked to a magazine sales crew happened in Portland.

In October 2005, a man who represented himself as a magazine sales agent and who was going door-to-door in Sellwood physically and sexually assaulted a woman after knocking on the victim's door and forcing his way inside.

Police say the man, between the ages of 21 and 25, was cleanshaven and wore a dark suit with a pink-striped tie. No one has been apprehended in the crime.

Pitch must come in 30 seconds

The Department of Justice's interest is not the possible criminal cases, which would be pursued by local police and prosecutors, but possible violations of business and nonprofit regulations, Margosian said.

Among other things, state regulations require that people who sell door-to-door tell people within 30 seconds why they are at their door, and provide two copies of a contract to any purchaser that explains that the purchaser has a right to pull out of the deal and get a refund.

The Department of Justice also has taken civil actions against companies whose agents made a false claim that they were selling on behalf of a charity or nonprofit group.

Local police and sheriffs' officials say the crews continue to be a consistent issue, especially in the spring and summer.

'It's been a problem and been a problem for a very long time,' said Capt. Don Forman of the Lake Oswego Police Department.

Business license could be a tool

Like many Oregon cities and counties, Lake Oswego requires door-to-door solicitors get a business license when they sell in Lake Oswego.

Forman said that while the requirement has a limited effect on the solicitors - many don't comply in getting a license or give false information on the application - it does mean 'there's a place where you can start' if police officers have questions about a group.

Portland and Multnomah County do not require most door-to-door solicitors to get a business license, however, because city and county rules have exemptions for businesses that generate a small amount of sales in the community.

Portland Police Detective Liz Cruthers, who continues to investigate the Sellwood rape, said local officials should consider changing those ordinances.

A business license requirement would help notify police that a crew was in town, and any business license, or a citation for not getting one, could 'create a paper trail' that could help police in investigating crimes that might be associated with the crews, Cruthers said.

'This issue needs to be addressed,' she said.

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