"Epic networking fail": Book salesman mistaken for child predator

The alert from Albemarle County Schools on Thursday, May 23, struck fear into the hearts of area parents: a man driving a white Chevy wagon had reportedly approached a child who'd just gotten off the school bus and was walking up the driveway towards his Keswick area home. If the reported incident had all the hallmarks of every parent's worst nightmare, it soon became apparent that things weren't quite as they first seemed.

According to the school system's "urgent safety message," blast emailed just after 1:30pm, less than an hour before many county students would be riding the buses home, the man "told the student he wanted to get to know the families in the area and asked what other houses on the street had children." News traveled fast among parents, who shared the information on their Facebook pages, and expressed concern that a predator could be targeting county kids.

Fortunately, the fear didn't last long as the man— now identified as a college student from Texas— stopped by the police station to explain the misunderstanding. 

According to a police press release sent two hours after the school's alert, the man is a student representative for Southwestern Advantage, a 150-year-old Nashville, Tennessee-based company that hires college students and sends them to cities around the country where they sell the company's educational books and software. The man and three other Southwestern Advantage representatives have proper licensing to sell their products in Albemarle County, according to the police release.

The company website reveals its reps receive one week of formal training before being sent to their sales locations, and company spokesperson Trey Campbell says that training includes a course on ethics called "operating with integrity," which includes instruction on approaching families in a "delicate" way, but nothing that explicitly addresses how to avoid being perceived as a child predator.

According to Campbell, the employee learned he'd become the subject of suspicion when "he had someone follow him and take a photo of him in his car."

The employee "asked the gentleman [who'd taken the photo] if he wanted to see the products he was selling," says Campbell. "The gentleman declined and told him to go turn himself in."

Campbell says the Albemarle County incident is not the first time a Southwestern Advantage employee has been mistaken for a child predator.

"It's happened once or twice before in South Carolina," says Campbell.

One county parent sees a bright side to the episode.

"The kid did the right thing and told his parents, and the community did the right thing and got the information out," says Hodges Myers, father of four children in the County school system.

He also sees a learning experience for a young businessman who's marketing a product aimed at children.

"You gotta tell people what you're there for, and you have to speak to the adults in the house," says Myers. "Hopefully, in this young man's career, this will be his only epic networking fail."

19 comments

Nonetheless, any stranger who parks in my driveway and approaches my kids as they get off the bus might well suffer the consequences of my temporary insanity and/or reasonable action and/or castle doctrine. I'll let my lawyer figure it out and put the best argument before a jury of my peers.

To the traveling salesmen approaching unaccompanied kids: find a more dignified and less hazardous job.

Finally, let me wonder aloud and not particularly about these incidents: what does the public licensing procedure (mentioned in the article) involve? Do the licensing authorities do personal background checks? Does the license allow talking to unaccompanied minors? Does the license permit the solicitors to park in taxpayers' private driveways? What are the repercussions for bad actions?

Public license means they have a business license. You don't get a background check for most business licenses.

Granted there are some bad people in this world, but we are becoming a society that is afraid of everything.

Seems like this job would be good cover for potential child predators. I would not one a door-to-door salesman approaching my child in that manner. Completely inappropriate.

This company sells here every year. Each time they have come to my house they have been pushy and rude. They have asked that very question: where do other kids live?
Someone should look into this company.

If he shows up at my place then the last words he'll hear will be "release the hounds!"

Duck & cover !!!

Pretty sure this was an episode of 'The Andy Griffith Show'.

LocalView9, I completely agree with the second part of your post.

Everyone should practice this approach for dealing with door-to-door salespeople: "I'm not interested. Leave my property." And then close the door in their faces. People are too afraid of being "rude" and these salespeople prey on that. They'll try to give you a sob story but that's too.d@mn.bad. Don't let them turn their problems (i.e., desire to make a profit) into your problem (i.e., wasting time on your front porch listening to their spiel, spending your hard-earned $$ on something you don't really need, etc.). If you're friendly and polite, they'll take advantage of that.

How many of you folks hyperventilating about this even realize or care that Dyncorp, after having been caught running child kidnapping rings, is currently licensed by the governor to do business in the state of Virginia? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Px1t1-a9uxk

Our apologies to the Albemarle County schools and community for the misunderstanding. We were sorry to read of the concerns. We appreciate the Albermarle Police Dept for issuing a statement clarifying the situation https://www.facebook.com/AlbemarleCountyPoliceDepartment/posts/267522766...

We are happy to help resolve any remaining concerns and answer questions that any members of the community may have by reaching out to us directly at 888-602-7867 or sw@southwestern.com. We have had students serving families in Albermarle County for generations, and we thank those involved for looking out for the well-being of your neighbors.

"Public license means they have a business license. You don't get a background check for most business licenses."

I'd like to know more.

From nothing more than the news report and the Albemarle County Police release linked above (i.e., I haven't scoured the County code), it would appear that our local government issues licenses to solicit.

So I ask:

1. Is a permit legally required for soliciting business door-to-door (or driveway-to-busstop, as in this case)?

2. What does the permit specifically allow? How does this compare to un-permitted soliciting salesmen (e.g., Girl Scouts cookies, lawn-mowing services, random guys in vans, and "gypsy"/Romani-pavers)?

3. What are the repercussions for getting caught acting outside of the permit?

4. Was this company found to be in violation of the permit?

5. For the company itself: what actions have you taken independent of government action to hold your offending contractors/employees accountable?

The name of our county is "Albemarle". Learn how to spell before you get into the educational book market. Just a piece of advice.

Somebody,.. Bazinga! Nice one sir or madam!

Southwestern: Thanks for posting to the news item forum and offering to listen. I had a very similar experience with one of your salesmen a year or so ago: Asking about me as a "single mom" and were there other families in the neighborhood, etc. I'm not nervous about this sort of stuff generally but it made me so uneasy that I, too, reported him to the Albemarle police.

This sort of thing couldn't repeat itself by accident. Your company must be telling these guys to ask that question. Since you didn't learn the first time, I hope you will train them differently in the future.

Whether or not they are child predators, it sounds like people should avoid them for other reasons. Look at this:

http://somedayallthis.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/the-southwestern-company-...

"How do you feel about a company that relies on prying information about your children from your neighbors without your consent?"

A rep came to my home in my Albemarle subdivision this morning and was really hard to get rid of despite me being completely clear that I was not interested. He certainly was mining me for every bit of info he could. I was disturbed and googled the company and that's where I found that info linked above.

Maybe Paul Tudor Jones has some words of wisdom on this subject...just as his masogynistic view of women on WallStreet.

@ Read the Hook: Where is the story regarding Paul Tudor Jones comments:

"May 10, 2013
Times Dispatch"

"University of Virginia benefactor’s (PAUL TUDOR JONES II) comments on women spark controversy..."

Epic fail on the Hook's part. Where is your coverage of the UVA?

Symposium comments seen to denigrate women

Home>Collections>Statement
Paul Tudor Jones’s statement on controversial comments at U.-Va.
By Jenna Johnson,May 23, 2013

Paul Tudor Jones sent a statement to The Washington Post in reference to comments that he made at a U-Va. McIntire School of Commerce investment symposium April 26. When asked at the event why there are not more women high up in the trading world, Jones said that most women lose focus when they have children. This is the full statement he released to The Post on Thursday:

“As I’ve told my three daughters, all of whom I’ve at one time encouraged to go into macro trading, any man or woman can do anything to which they set their heart and mind.
PAUL TUDOR JONES MASOGYNISTIC VIEW OF WOMEN WORKING

Washington Post
May 23, 2013

RE: PAUL TUDOR JONES STATEMENT REGARDING WOMEN:

“My off the cuff remarks at the University of Virginia were with regard to global macro traders, who are on-call 24/7 and of whom there are likely only a few thousand successful practitioners in the world today. Macro trading requires a high degree of skill, focus and repetition. Life events, such as birth, divorce, death of a loved one and other emotional highs and lows are obstacles to success in this specific field of finance.

Seems like the next generation will be even more spoiled, paranoid, and sheltered than their obnoxious yuppies parents were. This is what a nation in decline looks like folks. Thank god for immigration, it's the only thing that might save us.