The Investigators

Aug 14, 2013 6:10 PM by Tom McNamara

Internet fuels claims of door-to-door sex-trafficking

Lots of viewers have called and emailed the News 4 Tucson Investigators, telling us they've had teenaged students with thick accents show up at their door, trying to sell children's books, and asking too many questions.

The story has taken on a life of its own on the Internet.

On Facebook, post, after post, after post, claiming the sales pitch was something more sinister. They say these visitors asked lots of direct questions about any children living in the home, even about the family's daily routine, including when they come and go.

The claim: that it may be part of human trafficking, aimed at kidnapping children.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted to get to the bottom of those claims, so we talked to local law enforcement.

Pima County Sheriff's Deputy Tracy Suitt tells us, they've also heard about these door-to-door booksellers operating in Pima County.

"We've had a few cases, maybe about five of them here in the county. But, the ones that we've had, that we've checked up on, have turned out to be mainly just suspicious in nature, but they haven't panned out to be anything serious. Just people out trying to sell these books," Suitt says.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators have been able to track the sellers to a company called Southwestern Advantage, a company based in Nashville.

Company officials say claims of a sex trafficking connection are false.

In a statement to the News 4 Tucson investigators, Trey Campbell, a Southwestern Advantage spokesman says:

"Since facebook and other social media sites know no borders, false information can spread rapidly. Students participating in the Southwestern Advantage program sell educational products and live locally with a host family. They pay applicable taxes, obtain a local solicitation permit (if required), check in with the police as needed, and wear an id badge. Again, they're simply college students working to pay for school and gain life skills to help them with their futures."

Even if the rumors are false, authorities tell the News 4 Tucson Investigators, it pays to be cautious when it comes to door to door salespeople of any age.

"Anytime someone comes to your home that you don't know - number one - stay behind a locked door. And then, if you do talk to them, don't let them get inside your house. Give very little information about your family. Then, when they leave, if you don't talk to them, or if you do talk to them, get on the phone, call 9-1-1 and let us know. Give us a description of these people, and where they may be heading next, so we can go talk to them," Suitt says.

If you have something you think we need to investigate, email the News 4 Tucson Investigators at investigators@kvoa.com

Here is the complete statement sent to the News 4 Tucson Investigators by Trey Campbell with Southwestern Advantage:

A post being shared on Facebook linking college students selling educational products to families being involved in a human trafficking ring is completely FALSE.

College students participating in the Southwestern Advantage summer sales program are in the community, have checked in with the police and have obtained the proper permits where required by local law.

This is a rumor that started in another state and has spread via social media. Southwestern Advantage has bee in communication with various law enforcement agencies and local police departments to provide facts.

Since Facebook and other social media sites know no borders, false information can spread rapidly. Students participating in the Southwestern Advantage program sell educational products and live locally with a host family. They pay applicable taxes, obtain a local solicitation permit (if required), check in with the police as needed, and wear an ID badge. Again, they're simply college students working to pay for school and gain life skills to help them with their futures.

Southwestern Advantage is an accredited member of the Better Business Bureau and maintains an A+ rating. The summer sales program for college students was established in 1868 and has students from over 300 colleges and universities who participate - including students from Arizona who are in another part of the country. Anyone with questions or who would like additional information can contact Trey Campbell at 888-602-7867 or trey.campbell@southwestern.com. The website for more information is www.southwesternadvantage.com.



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