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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Graceful Hands Charity

They've knocked on my door several times over the last few years, and I still don't know what to do about it.  The person is always African American, always smiling, and can show the scars of a difficult life -- a gunshot wound, a teen pregnancy, you name it.  Always a sympathetic person, talking about second chances, self improvement, and the rest -- all stuff I believe in.

But what they are selling is overpriced magazine subscriptions. If I buy the subscriptions, then this nice smiling person in front of me will be able to go to college and realize his or her dreams or whatever.

And if I don't -- then what?  A return to a life of poverty and crime?

I'm being made to feel guilty for not buying something that I don't need.  I end up offering them a few dollars just for themselves; sometimes they take it, sometimes they don't.

A long time ago, I bought an overpriced magazine subscription from an attractive young woman who said she was doing it for some kind of contest.  Her line when I opened the door was something to the effect that I had won a "prize" - her!  That got her into the apartment, and the rest was child's play for her.  But every time I received the magazine thereafter, I felt resentful.

Clearly, I should want to help the Graceful Hands "salespeople" more than that woman way back then.  But my problem is that I feel like I am being ripped off.  I know the "salesperson" gets a commission (or the chance to win a prize of some sort), but where does the rest of the money go?  Is somebody getting rich off of this?

Graceful Hands is a 501(c)(3) organization, which sounds good, but the problem is that you just don't know how much the executives are paying themselves.

The organizers of Graceful Hands are listed on the website, and they seem like respectable people.  One is a mayor, another is a lawyer.  [Update May 13, 2015 -- I haven't checked the site for a long time, but just checked today and I see this link is broken.  And rummaging around the site, I was unable to find the names of anyone in management.  That seems pretty fishy to me.  I'm not going to change anything in this original post, even though some of it might not match the current site.  Feel free to check out their site yourself:  http://www.gracefulhands.org/]


But here's something from the website that bothers me:

"We provide assistance to a developing independent workforce in the areas of: housing, clothing, food, training supplies, counseling. Looking for work? We also refer job-seekers to our on-the-job direct sales training partners."

So who are these "direct sales training partners"?  Presumably it's they and NOT necessarily Graceful Hands, that make the extra money from the subscription sales.  Graceful Hands just lends out its semi-respectable name, and the "training partners" sweep in the cash, that was intended to go to a charity (a fraction of which, admittedly, goes to the person with the gunshot wound at my door).

Graceful Hands does not seem to get reported as a scam on any kind of a regular basis.  Here's one report, and it also includes a response from Graceful Hands itself., as well as a comment from a consumer who wished she'd bought a subscription.  [update May 15, 2015:  This link still works, and it indicates that at that time, the website indicated that Graceful Hands's founder was Maurice McClain.  If you google him today, you'll find that he has done the same thing under different names -- Urban Development Solutions, Ultimate Unity -- in the past.  Here are some more complaints, as well as responses from those entities]


You be the judge.  I welcome any response from Graceful Hands itself in this space.



UPDATE October 27, 2013:  Today's WashingtonPost has a sad discussion of non-profit scams -- how there are nearly 1000 documented cases of trusted employees stealing significant amounts of money -- usually $250,000 or more (the dollar amount reporting requirement; it can also be 5% of assets/receipts) -- since 2008.  I did not find "Graceful Hands" among those listed, so this isn't necessarily a knock on them.  But it's another example of a lot of people thinking that they are entitled to skim a profit for themselves off of donations meant to help others.


UPDATE March 16, 2015:  Based on various comments below, it appears that the company "Mailbox Media, 3820 W. Happy Valley Rd, Glendale AZ" is also involved in this "enterprise."  I'll also add that last summer, I was visited by someone from an organization called "Entrepreneurial Sales," which was following the identical business model as Graceful Hands.  Another similar outfit seems to be "Fresh Start Opportunities" (see http://www.komonews.com/news/consumer/51330712.html).


If anyone can shed any further light on "Entrepreneurial Sales," "Mailbox Media", or "Fresh Start Opportunities," I'd appreciate it. [Update May 13, 2015 -- we can add Urban Development Solutions and Ultimate Unity to this list]

Update August 6, 2015:  A commenter named Matthew (see below), has provided some very useful information, including this writeup in the Atlantic from a few months ago.  It sounds like there are a lot of these organizations out there, and they really are exploiting their "salepeople."  http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/trapped-into-selling-magazines-door-to-door/388601/.  Here's a quote from the article, which matches the experience of every single commenter below, and provides additional information:

"Young came armed with an official certificate stating her company’s mission. According to the paper, Certified Management Incorporated was dedicated to helping youth and other troubled souls get off the streets by giving them the opportunity to sell subscriptions door-to-door for points while the company provided room, board, and food. The workers get placed on “crews”—teams of four to 12 people—and travel across the country, canvassing neighborhoods. At each door, they tell residents their personal stories—which generally include a litany of poverty-driven hardships and the need to support a family—and then try to sell them magazine subscriptions for a staggering $75 to $150 apiece. After a week or two, the crew moves on to another city.
"Young said she was working to send money home to her two daughters, aged 5 and 7, and she hoped to make it back in time for her littlest one’s birthday in the coming months. This was her first stint on a crew, and she was hopeful for the future. If all went well and she earned 20,000 points, she could move up to junior manager. After a 12-hour shift, she told me she’d earned 13 points. “If I can get sales on my resume and get a reference, I might be able to get my babies out of the projects,” she said.
"But Young was hundreds of miles from home, and she worried that if she failed to deliver, she wouldn’t earn enough to make it back to her kids. “If you sell too low or you’re a troublemaker, they’ll leave you,” she said. “And I ain’t got nothing.”
"Young is one of tens of thousands of people working for door-to-door magazine crews, and the fear of being left behind is nearly universal. “I’ve been working on crews for three years, and I’ve been abandoned 11 times,” said Stephanie Dobbs, a mother of three who worked with another company, Young People Working, LLC, until being stranded in Cloverdale, Indiana, last month. “But I keep going back. I’ve got to do something to support my kids, and this is fast, easy cash if you’re a good seller.”
 So "Certified Management Incorporated" and "Young People Working, LLC" are other such companies, just like Graceful Hands, Mailbox Media, Fresh Start Opportunities, and Entrepreneurial Sales.  Other such organizations mentioned in the piece are "Ultimate Unity" and "Urban Development Solutions."

Based on this reporting, it sounds like the "salespeople" are the biggest victims here.

Update August 8, 2015:  Some more links from Matthew -- all worth watching/reading, if you have the time.  Warning -- they might just make you angry enough about the "mag crew" industry to want to do something about it.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2007/02/21/us/21magcrew.html?pagewanted=all&referrer=&_r=0 (another eye opening article about the whole magazine crew scam and how the salespeople are victims)
https://youtu.be/pmgUs1E63-0 (a professionally-done take on mag crews with multiple story lines)
http://www.magazinesalescrews.com/ (scary stories about mag crews)

https://youtu.be/3C5d0zX_rZU (mag crew Christmas – they may look like college kids, but these are the people you are giving your money to)
https://youtu.be/nRm6R7_3YyI (a mag crew fail, featuring one of the guys in the Christmas video; you'll see the "pitch" is just a white version of the pitch that got you to this site)
https://youtu.be/-w7fObNWzMI (a vlog by a couple of recently-fired “salesmen” – a bit rambling, but interesting) 
https://m.facebook.com/NewportBuzz/photos/a.204497299569636.53611.201985873154112/1012520625433962/?type=1&source=48&refid=12&__tn__=E (indicating that they are currently in NJ)

Update August 23, 2016.  Here is a screenshot from the Graceful Hands website today:




I don't remember seeing this before, so I don't know when it went up.  I actually think it's mostly truthful -- they are partnering with for-profit businesses and they do provide their sales-force all those things.  But if you think it through, what they are basically doing is getting YOU (the person who answers the door and buys the subscription) to pay THEIR expenses of giving the "salesperson" a "job", and then THEY (and their for-profit partners) pocket the rest, and you are left with a worthless magazine subscription.  It's sort of circular -- they had the great idea of taking inner city people and sending them out to affluent neighborhoods to play upon liberal guilt by selling overpriced magazine subscriptions, and the more money they bring in from it, the more of these inner city people they will be able to help.  So if you did buy from them, I think it's fair to say that you did contribute to helping the people in the sales force, and you shouldn't feel too bad about it.  It's just like donating to a charity with a ridiculously high overhead ratio.

And maybe it's even a little bit better, because -- as everyone who has commented attests -- the sales people are uniformly polite and are very good at presenting themselves. 

If doing this "work" has given them those skills, perhaps they will be able to use them to get "real" jobs in the future. 

And who knows how much money you have saved society in the long run -- if the salespeople didn't have these jobs, perhaps they would have been out committing crimes, which can cost society a lot more, in terms of the costs to the victim, and the ultimate burden on our prison system.  It's just unfortunate that the government does not have "work" programs that provide these kinds of opportunities.

I'm not trying to argue FOR giving them as much money as you can, I'm just trying to provide some consolation for those of you reading this who have already given.




133 comments:

  1. Actually, the workers I met represented Urban Solutions Development (for profit), but when you ask them for more info, they refer to Graceful Hands website (non-for profit).

    I have asked them for more information to clarify, and will update here if they respond because either we are "donating" to a for profit company (by buying overpriced subscriptions), which makes no sense; or, and/or they are being deceptive because of the overlap in presenting both companies in the pitch.

    Either way, I have also asked them for charity financials as well, because even charities are susceptible to management skimming the cream, which I do not donate to.

    I do spend time advising these people, based on their interests, on how best to move forward in the smallest ways possible, but they always seem to show little interest relatively.

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    2. I had to delete a commment here because the author had added a couple of hundred hard-returns to the comment, which made it look like there were no other comments on the website. Because the author did make a point, I'm reproducing the comment (minus all the hard returns) right here (in the quotes), with my response below it.

      "Mike BoschJune 27, 2016 at 6:09 PM
      If people took the time to review or read the graceful hands website they can get an understanding as to how clearinghouses partnered with the none profit organization where while their representatives increases the publication company's sales and circulation they can earn a decent commission while under an umbrella assisting it's members in like a second chance program better and transform their lives. A for profit / none profit combined is not a new thing, Disney does it, the NWA does it, Broadway does it and many other major companies.
      This concept not only helps employ people with shaky past where it would normally be difficult for them to seek employment because in many cases they are prejudged and their past are held against them, this organization does not dwell on a person's past and rob from their future , their motto is if you're willing to extend your hand then they're willing to lift you up because it's not who you was but who you are today" and the none profit section of graceful hands help house people, provide transportation hot meals via their own personal crew catering services hair cuts & grooming , white shirts and ties and while taking them out of their envirnment away from the street life of crime gang and drugs to involved them in week end recreational entertainment and outings, their group crew leaders mentor these men & women holding positive self esteem seminars while reading bible quote God's moment and ending every meeting in group prayers. They tell you their stories of whom they are, where they've been and what they plan to do only to show their potential clients that they are supporting a winner , a future leaders . someone working to change their lives for the better, not to play the guilt trip but to display to truth and facts , now when we see television commercials play the guilt trip of children hungry dirty and dying or animals suffering we don't call it the guilt trip but if a young black person or any person for that matter does it we prejudge and make negative statements about them. the bible and the book of kabbalah states that if we do a good deed while prejudging or looking for something in return then we are just feeding our ego's so just help or assist if you wish without prejudice"

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    3. Pricefixer reply to Mike Bosch: Thanks for writing Mike, but no thanks for all the hard returns. Your point about how Graceful Hands is actually helping its "sales force" is well-taken. I don't think anyone really doubts that; as you say, Graceful Hands gives them clean clothes and something non-criminal to do.

      The problem is that the money that we "customers" end up paying out in response to the "sales talk" goes to a lot of people who are probably already rich and simply getting richer as a result of this Ponzi-like scheme. The "sales people" are not really "working" in the sense of actually providing valued labor in exchange for money, what they are doing is begging door to door. The money they get is not "earned," it's donated. And the people who get fat off of those donations are the people behind Graceful Hands and presumably the for-profit magazine whose subscriptions are being sold at too-high prices.

      Don't get me wrong. It's not just Graceful Hands I have a problem with. Every day I seem to read another report about another charity that turns out to be a scam. Even reputable-seeming charities often turn out to pay their staffs (all of whom got their jobs through some form of nepotism) way more than they could earn in the private sector.

      Graceful Hands is just one of many "charities" where only a small amount of the money donated actually goes to the people that the donors are trying to help. That's the kind of charity most donors try to stay away from.

      What would be truly admirable would be if Graceful Hands could organize this potential labor source to actually do labor that people want done, at fair prices, like yardwork for example.

      For readers interested in looking at the Graceful Hands website (per Mike's suggestion) the link is www.gracefulhands.org. It's changed since the last time I looked at it (when I wrote the first post in 2012), but it still looks pretty suspicious to me. There is a link for "budget", but no "budget" data that I can see. And no picture of the founder (Maurice McClain), although a relative of his seems to be the operations manager.

      Anyway, as I've indicated in my comments elsewhere, I'm kind of a sucker for face-to-face charity, especially when I can tell that the person in front of me was not nearly as lucky in life as I have been. So all my instincts are to help the Graceful Hands sales people, and in fact, I've given them money on occasion. And from the comments here, it's clear that many others feel the same way. But as a matter of logic, it doesn't make sense, and I resent the way the organization really seems to be profiting off of our sympathies.

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    4. I guess we can say that about most charities where in essence only 20% go's to it's original caae and yes a customer CAN purchase those oublications a lot cheaper or not even bother with the door to door sales, person and just buy it from a, book store news stand or internet where they are just buying direct but those publications, by sales people are higher because it go's to pay for they program, it's participants, the clearinghouse it's dilivery etc

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    5. Anyone can easily purchase these publications cheaper by buying direct from a book store news stand o the internet but the reason prices are higher with organizations like this is the funds are stretched out to help support the clearinghouse , the delivery the organization and it's members and so their main objective is customers can help out by receiving something educational in return and if they don't feel like purchasing as a last result they can donate to the cause.
      Graceful hands and the P.O.W.E.R. program which stands for Plan Organize Work Education and Respect is like a rehab type second chance support system where they lend their experience and volunteer to help pay it forward in society by assisting those who fell through the cracks of society.
      Since they are willing to take on or extend their services to this industry many other traveling sales crew's accepted it's participation and joined on to it's venture to help clean up the industry which is why you see several sales company's on it's rolodex .
      The problem is not the company's WELL' in some cases it is but many sales crews are working towards cleaning it's image and organization by setting stricter rules and guidelines , resolving customer complaints and even terminating bad agent's but there are a few bad apples the always try to test the envelope and push to screw up for their own personal greedy gain. The clearinghouse only receives the orders clear them and deliver them. Often times if an order is screwed up the clearinghouse would have to wait until a customer complains to review and investigate and fix the order which result into a backlog and delay of people's merchandise but sales reps are independent contractors and when joining they sign an enrollment contract agreeing to abide by the proper rules and guidelines to conducting themselves in a professional respectful manner displaying honesty and integrity but for the most part the majority of it's members are really doing their best to make an honest living so let's not throw out the whole barrel over a few bad apple's
      There is good & bad in every aspect and profession of life"
      IN POLITICS
      IN RELIGION
      IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
      IN SPORTS
      IN BUSINESS
      and even in family but just because I see someone who works at a fast food chain spit in someone's burger I won't prejudge and assume that all of McDonald's for example is bad and just because I watch a crime committed by say a black man does not mean all blacks are bad.
      LOOK" they are working and doing their best to uplift some of these folks and yes there's problems and room for improvement but rather than looking to throw rocks and find fault get involved and BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE"
      The government cut many community social service programs from many communities nationwide because they say it's not in the budget, many churches nationwide are not stepping up to the plate and working outside the church and away from the pulpit and getting involved in their communities, Today we are lacking role models mentors and leaders to set the example and so if a program like this found an avenue to extend their hands than don't hate participate"

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    7. On your first point -- about the fact that there are other charities out where only 20% of donations actually goes to the "cause" -- those are exactly the "charities" that people shouldn't be donating to. In fact, I would say anything with overhead greater than 50% is clearly just a scam meant to enrich the organizers. Many so-called Veterans' charities that prey on people's desire to help veterans are that kind of scam. (see http://weaponsman.com/?p=8825).

      Even for legitimate charities that try to justify their high overheads, your money is just going towards high pay and perks for charity officials and additional fundraising. And at least in theory, any funds raised that way are funds that the donor may well have been going to give to another charity anyway. If you've decided that you're only going to donate a certain dollar amount to charity each year (and that's probably the way anyone who isn't super rich should be, whether you've decided to donate 1 percent or 10 percent of your salary, it makes sense to have a fixed amount), then you should be saving your money for charities that are efficiently run.

      Of course, if your decision to make any donation at all will only occur in response to fancy advertising or a charismatic, $500,000-a-year CEO, then go ahead and donate to high-overhead charities. It's something.

      I've written about this in connection with Dan Pallotta's Ted Talk, here: http://pricefixer.blogspot.com/2013/09/charitable-giving-and-overhead.html

      I think even 40% overhead is too much for my charitable dollars. It just shouldn't cost that much. There are numerous lists on the internet of "good" charities where a significant factor is low overhead. Here is one such: https://www.charitywatch.org/top-rated-charities

      If you or anyone else can tell me how much Graceful Hands spends on overhead, and how much money its leadership and employees are paid, I'd appreciate it, as that would help inform my decision the next time I am approached. I'm perfectly willing to leave the costs of the training, the clothes, and the travel out of the overhead calculation, since in a way, that benefits the people that we are trying to benefit. But I have a feeling a lot of overhead is left over after all those expenses are factored out.

      As you can see from the numerous comments below, most of us would be happy to simply hand the "sales-person" $50 or $100 for their own personal use. That's a zero-overhead charitable gift (although probably not tax deductible). What everyone resents is the unseen and unaccounted for "take" of the Graceful Hands leadership and their for-profit corporate partners.

      Again, it would be great if Graceful Hands could organize their "sales force" to do something other than begging door to door. Maybe they could go door to door with the same "sales speech," but also provide a service, like collecting in-kind donations for Goodwill or the Salvation Army. A lot of people probably have stuff lying around that they'd be happy to donate; they just don't get around to doing it. A transaction like that could be good for both sides.

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  2. These people just came to my door, and I gave them a check, and then called my bank and cancelled payment on that check about an hour later, because after looking at their website, I just didn't feel comfortable about it. I was in a hurry to get my kid into her bath, and would normally turn these people away, but as you said, he was a nice african-american man with a story about getting off the streets and a life of mistakes in New Orleans. Terrible. My bank went as far as to waive the stop payment fee and put an "alert" on my account in case I end up with some sort of identity theft. Learned my lesson. I hope it isn't as bad as I think it is, but it just seemed not right.

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    1. Cameron ChristensenMarch 28, 2013 at 10:21 PM

      Here's another perspective on charities that you can think of the next time you buy some well-advertised commercial product:

      http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong.html

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  3. Cameron ChristensenMarch 28, 2013 at 10:20 PM

    You're saying when a person who has genuinely risen from / cleaned up from what to casual examination (wounds, tattoos, demeanor) would appear to be a very difficult life, who has fervor for their cause, which is education, urban renewal, self-improvement...
    ...that this is suspicious?!

    Have you ever read any study about ending poverty and it's close cousin crime? Put money in the neighborhoods! The cost of doing business (paying a man so that he too can move up and move on), is fair and time-honored for all of us.

    Think of the underlying cause. Maybe the magazines are a front for, for what? That man went through rehab. He was in the hospital. He is standing there before you clean and faithful and believing he can make a difference.

    You go to New Orleans, New York, Chicago, LA, Pittsburgh, ... Go ahead and grow up or raise your babies in a neighborhood without hope or opportunity, where cops are crooked and kids turn to their leaders who happen to be bullies and dealers.

    Maybe that money is gonna buy somebody a sandwich, maybe some care and methadone.

    That guy didn't get off the street by himself. He had help, help that could have come from you if you hadn't cancelled your damn check.

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    1. Here's why you might want to be suspicious. I just read a story from the Hartford Courant (May 5, 2010) about poor people being recruited from various parts of the country, given bus tickets to Connecticut, and sent out to do door-to-door sales of magazine subscriptions. They discovered that they "worked long hours for little or no pay and ended up owing the companies for lodging that they thought would be free." They were able to get back home only because the bus company gave them free tickets.
      So the scam may be ripping people off in both directions. Yes, many people need our support and charity, but find a reputable charitable or "hand-up" organization (there are many of them) and support them, not fly-by-night, out-of-nowhere outfits. You could end up enriching criminals who are using poor people as pawns.

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    2. Hi I work for this company and my boss never leaves any one stranded. He provided the tickets for those guys, not the bus company. In our application it is written clearly that lodging is free for the first 2 weeks and it is a commission pay only.

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    3. Thanks for writing; if you check back, please tell us more about your experiences, and specifically which company you work for.

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  4. Wow ! So many of the same feelings and thoughts that I had this evening when a young man named Nathan came to my door. Since I work in inner city ministry, I agree that ALL people regardless of race or creed should have an opportunity to get an education and a job that will pay them enough to support themselves and a family. It was apparent that Nathan had been dressed to look like a suburban white man, not exactly who he was. He presented himself very well and I think he would have talked all evening. He said they travel all over the country so I too think somebody has to be making some money. It concerned me that the price of the magazines were really expensive and he said the magazines were donated and printed material is pretty much obsolete these days, just ask Borders bookstore. My prayer is that these young men are being not exploited for their life circumstances.
    BTW CC I did not buy magazines, but I did give him a donation check. It takes more than money to make a life change, it takes relationship,

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  5. The young woman who just came to my door started out asking if I believed in second chances, which I do, then explained that she is a single mom and was court ordered to do this program to get her 4 kids back. She wasn't sure about the prices of items because she didn't have a price sheet with her, but the prices she quoted were, I thought, way too high. When I told her I couldn't pay that much, she said it was really about believing in and helping her, that she would get $45 commission plus points. Then she played the race card, saying that I didn't want to help her because she was black. When white kids come to my door, they are usually selling $20 coupons.

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  6. The lady was super nice almost sugary sweet until I told her no thankyou I was not interested at this time. She turned rude, made some kind of "you guys are all the same" comment under her breath and left w/o so much as a goodbye.

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  7. Never again will I donate to these people. I've had a couple of people come to my door over the past few year with similar stories to what others have described. I didn't want any magazines so I wrote a check for a "gift subscription" for $20. I got my bank statement back today and it turns out the guy changed the $20 into a $30 and the bank cashed it. I will be contacting the fraud dept. at my bank about these people.

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    1. How could your bank have cashed the check at "$30" rather than "$20" if your check was written out properly? Not only must you pen in a digital amount, but you must also WRITE OUT the amount? Twenty is spelled a lot differently than Thirty? Foul on your bank's behalf too! When you file a fraud complaint, don't forget to include your bank as it sounds like they should have caught this?

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  8. I just had two nice men come to my door here in RI. When they found out I was studying to become a Pastor and that I could not support an organization that sold 3 unGodly magazines (I looked over the list), they immediately asked me not to judge them. I was handed a small sheet for a donation. I quickly remembered their organization has in the past been discredited and politely declined offering my hand to them anyway. They refused and the man in the tie (who said he had been to prison previously and was working his way back up) said I didnt show him much, after suggesting that Christians are "like a gang" and a few other disparaging things under his breath. I wanted to help him but I've read elsewhere this organization is exploitative. Gotta give them credit for coming to the door but they need to work on what NOT to say when they are disappointed or politely declined. Its telling as they walk away badmouthing the person they were just speaking with.

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  9. This evening same story, a young man, who is trying to make it out of a difficult life and suffered gunshot wounds, that almost paralyzed him, First said magazines were $36 a year, but then the minimum I could write a check for was $60 and i could donate the magazine to "The Women's Shelter" or Boys or Girl's club" When i told him I wanted only to buy on years he said i could only write for two years. He then showed me a donation slip and said I could donate but he wouldn't earn I commission. Also they same speech about how to be presentable and what would i recommend for him to get a head. I offered him $5.00 all the cash I had and he refused it, thanked me and left. Sounds like the guys are taught the same script.

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  10. I live in Norfolk, VA. I just gave the young man ten dollars. He said that he could provide a receipt. I asked him a few more questions and found out that he was not from Virginia. Disappointing. I received the same script as above.

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  11. Again from Norfolk, VA. I forgot to add that on the script paper, they said that they worked for START based at 1238 Davis Street, Baltimore, MD 21225, but then he referred me to the www.gracefulhand.org website as reference to the non-profit that he represented. Also he never gave me a written receipt, just a Thanks and I have to hurry on to more doors.

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  12. A friend in Southern California just told me a similar story...so this organization is still in business as of 01/08/2015. My friend is (admittedly) a soft touch and wrote 2 checks for the 2 African/American's - 1 male, 1 female. One check to Graceful Hands for $120.00 and then one to "Mailbox Media" out of Glendale, Arizona, for $25.00. After thinking more about it, she tried to stop payment the next morning, but the checks had already been cashed (not deposited!). That in itself is pretty weird...

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    1. Well, it's a pretty good business model -- unless people complain enough to shut it down.

      Not too long ago, I had a knock on the door from someone with a similar organization -- I think it was called "Entrepreneurial Sales", and the pitch was exactly the same as with Graceful Hands. I think this guy had a bullet wound. I gave him ten bucks because I felt sorry for him, but afterwards kicked myself, since that's presumably part of the "business model" here too.

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  13. I just wrote a check to Mailbox Media (mailboxmedia.us) to someone who came to the door with the same story. Thinking I was helping him realize his dream to work to expunge his criminal record and help him earn money to go to college, I wrote a check for $220. After doing some checking online, there wasn't much about the company online and some info about others who were scammed, but it just sounded too good to be true - plus the script he told me is much like what you all mentioned above - the magazines would be donated to a Boys and Girls Club, etc. I cancelled the check, but am more fearful of safety should he or the group return to my neighborhood. Anyone else hear of Mailbox Media, 3820 W. Happy Valley Rd, Glendale AZ?

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    1. Thanks for your comment -- I've "updated" the original post to mention the Mailbox Media angle, which someone else has flagged here as well. It's interesting that in the other case, most of the money went to Graceful Hands, and only a smaller amount went to Mailbox Media, whereas in your case the full amount seems to have gone to Mailbox Media.

      Delete
  14. Unfortunately I just talked with a nice man "Shawn" working for Mailbox Media and watched him walk away with a check for $120 of my money. All the boxes were ticked: Black single father, criminal record, looking to earn some money so he could make something of himself. Since it was friday and I was in a good mood, I let his story sway me. After he left I checked online and found that I had been scammed. I stopped payment on the check immediately and went out and drove up and down the street seeing if I could get my check back, but he was long gone. Lesson learned, hopefully with no recurring theft because of my info on the check.

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    1. sorry to hear it. . . . is it too late to cancel the check?

      Still, the question of whether it's a "scam" is an interesting one. In the cosmic sense, you've probably given this guy something that he needed more than you needed it. And perhaps if he weren't getting money this way, he'd be breaking into houses, stealing things, and then selling them to a pawn shop for ten cents on the dollar, with great loss to everybody (except the pawn shop owner).

      I know somebody who was simply unable to stop her son from stealing money out of her purse while she was asleep. She "solved" the problem by getting him to learn SAT words for $1 a word. Now he can "earn" the $20 he would have stolen in about 20 minutes. He's stopped stealing and he has a better vocabulary.

      I don't recommend that everyone pay their kids that much to learn words (typically, if learning is associated with a monetary reward, kids are less likely to want to learn on their own), but in her case, it solved a problem and created a benefit.

      Delete
  15. So, May 4, 2015, suburbs of Boulder Colorado. Same story, same script. Nice young black man, single father, from Memphis Tennessee (probably true, as he had a tattoo with Memphis written on the right lower arm), selling magazine subscriptions as a way to redeem himself from a tough life. Played the black card a lot, making me feel guilty because I "did not want to believe in him" and as a white woman "what do I know of that tough life".
    Still I was not convinced, and having myself worked (in my distant youth) for similar organizations, I declined support, saying I'd much rather donate to organizations that I can check on, to be sure my money is effective (which I do).

    He was not happy; am not sure I understood, but it looked like I was being called names as he was walking away.

    Now I am checking this Gracefulhands thing. His notebook stated it is based in Atlanta Georgia; yet the website (gracefulhands.org) says Detroit, MI. I am fairly sure it is another scam (for us); we spend a lot, the guy gets some, his bosses get a lot.

    Is he better off doing this, than being at home? maybe, after all he claimed he's making more money like this than working at menial jobs. But, I don't like the exploitation part of it, and the fact that these people themselves are taken advantage of. Much more reliable and serious organizations exist out there that can use my money.

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    1. Very well put.The problem is that these organizations prey on our charitable instincts towards the person standing in front of us, but the money we give them ends up going towards the personal fortune of the person or persons behind them (the "bosses," as you call them). I get a good number of hits every day on "Graceful Hands" -- and I'm still waiting for someone to come forward (even anonymously) and defend what they are doing.

      So I'm going to make a commitment, for karma's sake -- the next time one of these hard-luck cases comes to my door, I will firmly tell him or her no, but then I'll go to my computer and donate $20 or more to a charity where I know that most of my money will actually go to a cause I support.

      Delete
  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. May 6, 2015 same area, Boulder CO...maybe the same guy came with the exact same story. Wrote him a check for $290 then checked on Mailbox Media and Graceful Hands on the intenet...so just cancelled the check with my bank. He could have just told me "look I'm black and I'm broke and I've been in prison and can't get a decent job"...I would have written the check directly to him. He didn't have to scam me. It's a travesty that our black population should have to cheat people. because a political and criminal system has cheated them. I'm a firm believer, what we do to others we do to ourselves, and this experience was living proof.

      Delete
    2. What's sad is that whoever is behind this clearly has the ability to organize and motivate disenfranchised and underprivileged minority men and women. It's too bad that they are using that skill merely to line their own pockets.

      Delete
  17. Just closed the door here in Denver after interacting with a black man--and former felon--representing Graceful Hands. No magazine subscriptions, just outright donations being solicited. He would get points for getting donations--more money, more points.He had a sheet of paper with the names and addresses of supposed neighbors who had donated, signing their names and writing complimentary comments about his demeanor, etc. Upon closer inspection, every entry was in the same handwriting. As much as I'd like to help him personally, there was no way I could support such a shadowy, suspicious premise-of-an-organization. Looking Graceful Hands up online, it really doesn't give a clear account of what it's all about and how it operates. Just very generic and vague. I'm tempted to put a 'No Soliciting' notice on my door......

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    1. Thanks for sharing -- sounds like they're hitting Colorado hard this month!

      Interesting that they're not even selling subscriptions anymore. At this point, they are just a big for-profit enterprise that makes its money by sending out an army of sympathetic beggars to go door-to-door.

      And also interesting that they are using forged references. That sounds like fraud to me; it might be time to file a complaint with your local Better Business Bureau.

      For those of you in the Denver and Boulder area, that's:

      http://www.bbb.org/denver/get-consumer-help/scam-source/scam-or-complaint/

      Delete
  18. got similar story like the rest of ya; was very skeptical of the biz/organization ; but I went online to do a bit of research and didn't find much about it as far as scam go, so wrote her a check for 60; went online again right after she left, and found this site. what really convinced me was their website, mailboxmedia.us, very generic and anyone can do it; so called bank and stop payment; next time when something like this come up, I will be forward and tell the person that I am not interested in this kind of soliciting cuz I cannot verify its credential, period.

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    1. Thanks -- I don't think I had looked at Mailbox Media's website before. They definitely haven't put much effort into it; it's barely even grammatical:

      "Our goal is to use the best practices and most ethical direct sales techniques to deliver quality magazines and books, door to door, across the nation. We pride ourselves on competent independent contractors with a belief that a well trained person can deliver the best customer satisfaction. We travel the nation delivering the best prices and products in the print publication industry, and strive to match your interests with the best magazine and or book."

      At least Graceful Hands's website makes you think they might be a legitimate charity (even though they admit they are paired with unnamed for-profit enterprises).

      Delete
  19. I had two salespeople from Mailbox Media stop by my house in Monument, CO on 5/11/2015. Like others posted above, both of them were black people, talking about how they're trying to better themselves. I bought a 3-year subscription for $90. I thought the website looked sketchy, and after doing a little research (including this blog post, thank you!), I stopped payment on my check. If you go to BBB and search for "Mailbox Media", you'll get to the page of "Team Xtreme Sales LLC", which has a long history of customer complaints. The street address of the two companies (3820 W. Happy Valley Rd, #141-199, Glendale, AZ 85310) is identical.

    The next day, on 5/12, another salesman from Mailbox Media stopped by my house too.

    I'm sure the salespeople are getting scammed as badly as the "customers" are. It's all really very sad.

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    1. You're welcome, and thanks for telling your story, plus the extra info on Mailbox Media. Quite clear that it's a scam, and you're right, the "salespeople" are also getting scammed.

      I wonder what it is about Colorado that is so attractive to these outfits. I'm not hearing much from other states nowadays . . . .

      Delete
  20. Add me to the list. I live south or Parker, CO, and was visited last week by a personable young black man. After a bad experience last year with a Urban Development Solutions/Ultimate Unity salesperson, I told last week's salesperson I would not buy another magazine/book subscription. He kept talking, and not wanting to be impolite, I did not stop him. Like last year, I concluded that I would be spending the rest of my life on the front porch unless I relented, so I bought a book set to be donated to a local facility. Once he took my check and left, I discovered that he was representing Urban Development Solutions/Mailbox Media. Further, the brochure he showed me indicated that the organization (UDS I assume) was BBB accredited which was reassuring but proved to be totally false. I completed the cancellation form and sent it to Mailbox Media, and cancelled my check. Sad to say but the next person who comes to my door selling magazines/books will get one polite 'no thanks' and the door slammed in their face if they persist with their sales pitch.

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    1. Still Colorado . . . . they must have figured there are a lot of easy marks out there, with all the pot and all. Seriously, I think you've made the right decision to simply freeze out the next one.

      btw this is certainly not just a "black thing" -- white people are just as bad at playing on people's heartstrings to get money for nothing. It was very good to see earlier this week that the government is finally shutting down (big-time) the Reynolds cancer charity empire. It's been a known fraud for some time (http://www.tampabay.com/topics/specials/worst-charities3.page), but now they are going to pay for their fraud (oh, but not in money -- they spent all that a long time ago) (http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/19/us/scam-charity-investigation/)

      Delete
  21. i can tell you this about the group. i work at a hotel that allowed these people to stay with us. lots of drugs, fights, alcohol.
    these kids are not being helped in any way.

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    1. How depressing. Exploitation all around. Thanks for sharing.

      Delete
    2. Well, they're in Apple Valley, Minnesota now.

      I had a black woman in her 20's stop by yesterday while I was outside with my dog. She was extremely friendly, and told me a story about how she grew up in the slums in Cleveland Ohio, and how awful her childhood was. She continued to tell me that more recently her aunt stole her identity and racked up massive amounts of debt in her name. And, her fiance was killed this past year in a gang shooting involving drugs. She has a 1 year old daughter, and hasn't been able to find, or keep, a job. She was desperate for money to pay bills and to go to school to become a nursing assistant, with the hope of becoming an RN in the future.

      I offered to give her some money, but she refused, and instead begged me to subscribe to one of 70+ magazines. I was also given the opportunity to donate magazines to the less fortunate, or donate to children's organizations. I gave her a check made out to mail box media for $64 for a subscription (that could take up to 3-6 months to receive).
      BTW: Their website is mailboxmedia.us, and their address is the same as the others...3820 W. Happy Valley Road #141-199, Glendale AZ85310

      The group that sponsored and brought several disadvantaged adults to MN to canvas neighborhoods was called Divine Creationz. I checked the website she gave me and that domain is available for sale, and doesn't exist.

      She hadn't made as many sales as her counterpart (who apparently was canvassing in another part of the neighborhood) and she seemed concerned/frightened of the consequences. I tried to talk to her to offer alternative suggestions for her life, but I felt she was fearful and brainwashed. I feel badly for her and all other young people and adults who are taken in by this type of promotion.
      I am now debating whether I should stop payment on that check.

      Delete
    3. Tough story; thanks for sharing. I don't know what to advise you -- it sounds like she was very sympathetic and that you tried to help her in the only way that she would let you. If you don't cancel the check, then most of your money will go to someone who really doesn't deserve it. But if you do cancel it, then the woman will be that much worse off (she'll get fewer points in her contest or whatever).

      Still, maybe the right thing to do is to cancel -- the woman sounds like she was pretty good at what she is doing (i.e. begging); she probably had plenty of success with your neighbors.

      Then again, that still might make you feel bad, and maybe $64 isn't that big a price for some peace of mind, and for the lesson you learned (whatever that might have been).

      Delete
  22. Yep. Young black man was just on my doorstep. Single dad from Detroit. Grew up in the streets. Apparently, it's page two of the sales manual. I'm in Excelsior, MN. Debating whether I should stop the payment on the check. It was only $64. I feel like I should just let it go and take my lumps. No idea if there would be any retribution if I stopped payment.

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    1. Two Minnesotas in a row . . . I see a trend beginning. I guess the problem is that it's hard (although not impossible with a smartphone) to google them when they are standing right in front of you like that.

      I doubt there would be retribution, but of course you never know. Sometimes $64 is a small price to pay for a lesson learned. It's just infuriating that all that money they are taking in really is going to quasi-crooks, instead of the people who need it.

      And who knows, maybe the "salespeople" are getting something out of it. Presumably, their expenses are being paid, and they are having a somewhat enriching experience, talking to better-off people and practicing how to present themselves. And all the time they are doing this, they are not getting into other kinds of trouble.

      Delete
  23. Same thing here in Eden Prairie, MN this afternoon. Young African American woman from mailbox media.us trying to make a better life for herself. She approached me just as I was pulling in the drive way from work with my young son. I like to believe the best in people and help others. I ended up going with the $64 subscription as others noted above. I later went inside I saw the bare bones website and became very skeptical and now found this blog. Debating on canceling check as well. I don't want to have to deal with identity theft or worrying about having my account information out there.

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    1. I guess your point is that if you cancel the check, they'll still have the check, and they might use it to steal your identity? I suppose that's possible. As I've told others, I really don't know what to advise in this situation. Would be nice if someone just went after Mailbox Media and shut them down, and got them to pay the money back.

      My current thought is that anyone with this experience should file a consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. That's an easy thing to do, and if enough people do it, presumably the FTC will start an investigation, which should make the people behind mailbox media etc very nervous. You probably won't get your money back, but it's the civic minded thing to do. Here are a couple of links for that:

      https://www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint-ftc

      https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1


      Delete
  24. They're still in MN. I'm in Savage. I think I had the same gal as several of you (Cleveland, better herself, etc). The price of the magazines was crazy. I did relent and give here a $25 check and a few bucks cash I happened to have. I'm worried now that my check is out there 'in the wild' more than I am upset about the money.

    OMW to FTC to file a compliant - thanks for the link.

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    1. Ok, you're welcome; great -- let us know if anything comes of your FTC complaint!

      Delete
  25. They have now made their way to Lancaster, Pennsylvania..... and fortunately for me, I happened to have a pretty good experience with the young guy who came knocking on my door. He was sincere, genuine, and I got the gut feel that he was 110% honest with everything he told me. He's a product of the St. Louis ghetto, in a gang for a while, dealt drugs, and just really trying to get out of that way of life and make a better one for himself. I live in a nice neighborhood, and he was genuinely interested in knowing how I got to the point in my life to have a successful career, afford a nice car, and be able to afford my neighborhood. He put his "job" aside for 15 minutes and sat down with me on my porch and truly wanted to know how to get himself in to a better position in life. He wrote Antonio Johnson on the receipt that I received from my donation.

    I could either buy a magazine subscription, or donate. I wanted and still want nothing to do with magazines, so tried to find a way around a subscription and I was offered the option to donate to the Boys & Girls Club of America. Although my "in the moment" experience with this individual was positive, I am angry that I am now online reading about this bogus organization and how they conduct business. I now feel that Graceful Hands just "uses" and "exploits" at-risk and vulnerable individuals to go knocking door-to-door and take people's money (such as myself) just to fatten the pocket of this so-called "founder". Very unfortunate, and quite honestly..... very wrong.

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    1. Wow. I did not see that coming. From your first paragraph, I thought you might be the first defender of Graceful Hands to appear on this blog.

      In a way, I'm sorry that you had to see all this. If you hadn't, maybe you would have remained happy, after having had such a positive interaction. And now that you know the score, maybe you can still be happy -- after all, you may have had a positive effect on that young man's life, and the fact that someone else may have profited illegitimately from the interaction with him doesn't necessarily mean it was wasted.

      But of course I agree that it's very wrong. As I've said before, I just wish these profiteers would apply their skills to mobilize the hard-luck people they find to do something positive for the community or the world. For example, they could come to your house and offer to do 15 minutes of hard gardening/weeding work for $5. That's a pretty good wage, and it would be a transaction that both sides could feel very good about (and tipping is also possible). And I wouldn't even mind if the organizer got a cut of that. It's a whole lot better than begging for profit, which is what they are doing now.

      P.S. I think the Boys and Girls Club of America is a real thing, but if you google "Boys and Girls Club America scam," you'll get a bunch of hits about how magazine selling scam artists are taking donations in that name, without passing them on

      Delete
    2. Same thing happened to me today in Richmond, VA. Polite, genuine young man who had the single dad, past drug dealer, father was in a gang, wants to turn his life around story. I usually don't buy anything from door-to-door salespeople, but this guy really seemed to want to change; he had goals and really gave a believable story. I thought I was buying a $96 two year subscription to a children's magazine to be sent to St. Jude's Hospital. When he gave me the receipt I noticed he had written in the name of a children's book. When I questioned him, he said "They get plenty of magazines so I thought you'd like to donate a book instead." I came in and googled the book - it sells for $7.50. So I paid $96 for a $7.50 book that probably won't get delivered anyway. And yep, it's Mailbox Media, 3820 W. Happy Valley Rd., Glendale, AZ. I would like to cancel the check, but I don't want to bring attention to myself and cause possible retribution. So I guess I'll just hope they cash it and there aren't any worse consequences than losing $96.

      Delete
    3. As I've said to others, I don't disagree with your decision not to bring attention to yourself by cancelling the check. I'm starting to wonder if these people I keep reading about (and that I have met) aren't actually and directly part of the con themselves. They all seem to be so good at telling their hard luck stories, and they seem to say all the right things to get us to part with our money.

      Anyway, I have no evidence for that. All I can do is suggest again that people file complaints with the FTC. Somebody is making tons of money off of this scam, on essentially false pretenses, and it would be nice if they could be found and stopped. Here are the links again:

      https://www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint-ftc

      https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1.

      Whatever you decide to do -- even if it's just moving on -- good luck with it!

      Delete
  26. My husband informed me today that he gave a check for $150 to a woman with almost identical stories as listed above. Mailbox Media! Actually, when she first started off on her "story", my husband told her he would give her his business card and offer her a job, but she declined and said she wasn't from the area (and was trying to get back to Seattle.) He spend about 20 minutes with her on the porch (I was putting the kids to bed) and then told me this morning that he spent $150 on books! GRRRR! We are in Maryland!

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    1. As mentioned before, I'm starting to wonder if all of the stories are just fake. It might take an FTC investigation to find out -- are you going to file a complaint? Here are the links again:


      https://www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint-ftc

      https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1.

      Delete
  27. Happened in Reston, VA to us last night. I bought a lot of magazines and donated them and though I feel now it is probably a scam I am hopeful the woman at least got some money. I was torn between feeling bitter and jaded and wanting to help someone who so clearly needed help. I'm trying to just not worry about it even though my donation would have been put to much better use at the local outreach groups.

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    1. Just to play devil's advocate (having fallen for this myself), are you really sure she needed help, or is it possible that she was just really good at pretending to be someone who needed help?

      But life is complicated; you probably didn't really need the money, and just by "giving" the money to these people, you've helped the economy on some level. Like you, I try not to worry too much after I've been ripped off.

      As I've suggested to others, if you have a few minutes, you could fill out an FTC complaint.

      Delete
  28. I live in Alexandria, VA and two young African-American men came to my door tonight. One was a "trainer" and the other a "trainee". They each had stories about a hard life. They were pleasant and very respectful and delivered a similar script to those in the comments above. I ended up purchasing 4 subscriptions to donate as a gift to the boys and girls club and help them with their "points". The total amount was $344. I felt good helping them out but foolish making an emotional decision without checking the company out first. After reading these posts I am tempted to send Mailbox Media my canceled receipts and stop payment on the check. I wouldn't mind the money going to these men (whether or not their stories are true) but the idea of supporting an organization that potentially exploits these people (and potentially does not follow through in providing the gifted subscriptions to the charities) is something I can't support.

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  29. I live in Alexandria, VA and two young African-American men came to my door tonight. One was a "trainer" and the other a "trainee". They each had stories about a hard life. They were pleasant and very respectful and delivered a similar script to those in the comments above. I ended up purchasing 4 subscriptions to donate as a gift to the boys and girls club and help them with their "points". The total amount was $344. I felt good helping them out but foolish making an emotional decision without checking the company out first. After reading these posts I am tempted to send Mailbox Media my canceled receipts and stop payment on the check. I wouldn't mind the money going to these men (whether or not their stories are true) but the idea of supporting an organization that potentially exploits these people (and potentially does not follow through in providing the gifted subscriptions to the charities) is something I can't support.

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    1. Wow, $344 is a lot of money. What I find interesting is that somebody has been able to train these hard luck cases to be pleasant and respectful, which is a very important life skill that much of modern youth (African American or otherwise) lacks (maybe I should send one of my kids to them). If I had a real job to offer the ones that I've met, I'd offer it in a heartbeat. It's just too bad that they are part of what is almost certainly a scam.

      You can certainly cancel payment on the check, but you'd be doing more good for more people (i.e. future victims of this) if you were to report it to the FTC:

      https://www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint-ftc

      https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1

      Of course, there's nothing to stop you from cancelling the check AND filing an FTC complaint. I'd do it myself, but then I'd lose the comfortable anonymity of this blog, and that could have repercussions for my current employment.

      Help out your fellow Northern Virginians, which is where they seem to be now!

      Delete
  30. today they were in the Oakton, VA area. I had a fabulous chat with a very personable and completely enjoyable young man named Frederick. He told me he was earning money for Cosmetology school, that he earns commissions off the subscriptions...and yes, just like others have related there was talk of points and goals. We had a lovely visit, chatted for more than 30 mins and could've talked more but he was getting picked up at his "drop off point" in 10 mins and needed to walk up a hill. We waved and smiled and called fond good-byes. Then I came in and tried to look up a piece of information he related. He said the group was registered with the Fairfax Cnty Sheriffs Department. That was the first crack in the story. He did not present the laminated FFXCO solicitor's card....they had a mock up of something similar that seemed legit. Pictures, signatures, even one of those square things you can scan with a smart phone...I don't have one. Looking at the receipts, the numbers weren't adding up either. I wanted to think well of this young man, I wanted to believe in his effort to raise himself up....but I was getting that queasy stomach feeling. Then I found this site. Sad Face. Unfortunately, it is Saturday evening and I can not stop payment on the checks (one to Mailbox Media, one to Graceful Hands) until Monday morning. My bank did flag my account and helped me put some extra security measures in place so no account information can be changed...also set up automatic alert protocol if information change is attempted. On the receipt Mailbox Media is 3820 W. Happy Velley Rd, Glendale, AZ....which is a UPS store. Graceful Hands does indeed have a tax ID #....which is a sad commentary on the validity of that system. Their address on the "Donation Receipt" is 3645 Marketplace Bvd. Ste 130, East Point, GA 30344....another UPS store. Really Sad Face. Yet another bad sign was when I "googled" the addresses....both popped up before I'd finished typing....this site too....seems my neighbors were far smarter than I. Damn. I will be filing a complaint on the links you provided in other replies.

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    1. Thanks for posting this -- some good new information here. I think it's possible that some legitimate businesses use UPS Store PMB's (personal mailboxes), but I bet it's also a good way for shady businesses to hide (of course, so are PO boxes).

      I'm very glad you'll be filing the complaint -- please let us know if you get any action. I would guess that this organization is taking in thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars a day with this scam.

      Delete
  31. A very polite and funny African American man arrived at my door in the Boston, MA area early tonight. He wasn’t as young as others have had, maybe late 20s, early 30s? He did not have the usual sad story of crime or drugs, but just said that he was from a Western state (forget which one) and that this was to help people like him, from disadvantaged areas, to learn marketing skills and keep them from doing other bad things. The only thing that he later shared that would pull at heartstrings was that he had 5 kids. He said that he was at 15,000 points and was on his way to gaining 20,000 points to graduate, where he would then be able to recruit other kids and train them. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true as he was very charming.

    I never give in to door salesmen, but he just seemed so kind and honest. Was not pushy at all, very polite. I just wanted to help him and was willing to give up some money even if it went all to him. I even told him all of that, and said that I’m doing it because I liked him. I first looked up Graceful Hands on my phone in front of him and told him that there was some unfavorable information concerning the founder of his charity, which he seemed to have no knowledge about. His reply was that the organization has helped him a lot. I, too, did not find your blog until doing research after he had left.

    I asked what the smallest contribution was. He explained that there were magazines at $2, $3 and $4 each, and the smallest order was 36 issues. So minimum was $2 x 36 = $72. He had handwritten/scribbled on his papers that at 36 issues, he got 50% commission, then 60% and 70% commission for more issues (forget the numbers). When I looked through all of his papers, the first page had a laminated certificate looking paper with his first and last names on it. The last page was also a laminated one with the pie chart of how revenue was divided between expenses, and had “Graceful Hands,” their website, and that they were a 501 charity, on it. There was also a 501 charity number posted that I now wish I had written down. When I asked if that was the name of his charity, it was only after answering that he added that I also had the option of making a donation to the charity, but that he would not gain any commission on it. So he obviously would have wanted me to get the magazines instead of donating. Seeing no bad reviews or scam information on his charity during my quick online research, I decided to donate magazines, but didn’t want to give him a check with my information on it, nor my address to send the magazines to, so I just gave him cash. I asked if he had change for $75, and he said that all he had was this twenty, opening up and showing me his folio/wallet. So I said that he could keep the $3 change for himself. He seemed to be unexpecting of this and didn’t know what to say in response. He wrote the receipt for me and told me that I could get a tax deduction for it, but looking at it later on I did not see “Graceful Hands” anywhere on it, nor the 501 charity number. On it was “Mailbox Media” and their Glendale AZ address, check canceling information, “customer please read instructions” including “We do not accept donations, of any kind” in a highlighted green color, as well as other “fine print” information.

    The list of names and signatures of donors on his sheet were of different writing and sometimes even pen color so I don’t think he forged them.

    What struck me as odd was that they only accepted cash or checks as payments. Why not credit cards? I guess checks are essentially cash, and credit companies would keep getting consumer “cancellations/refunds” against them which might cast too much spotlight on them.

    He genuinely seemed like he felt that he was doing a good thing here.

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  32. they've made their way to massachusetts and i'm sad to say i also got conned by them. had an older trainer and younger trainee catch me off guard right after i got home from work. very similar story as the one's already mentioned, they seemed very sincere. the older man asked me how, at such a young age, i could afford my own house and i told him my mother just passed away. he seemed very taken back and sorry but that didn't stop him from being very pushy about buying a magazine subscription. i ended up giving them a check for $64 which i stopped payment on today after getting my brains back and searching for the company and finding these complaints. i already cleared out the account for the check i gave them and will be going to my bank tomorrow to close out the account just in case.

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    1. it's a shame that we get driven to stuff like this -- having to close a bank account just to feel safe -- but that's just one of the problems that these scamsters cause. I hope you'll think about filing an FTC complaint as well (see links above).

      I like what you say about getting your brains back. I get scammed all the time by all kinds of things, and it's always sometimes later that my brains come back, usually too late.

      Delete
    2. I am in MA and I just gave a nice young guy 80.00 cash for subscriptions. I feel awful and don't dare tell anyone I was duped. I thought I was getting my fiancé a car magazine as a gift, now apparently I am just 80.00 broke and no magazine will be coming. He showed me a neighbor who bought from him, I thought it seemed legit. I should have known better, I just hope he uses the cash for food or something. Ugh.

      Delete
    3. Actually, after reading the Atlantic article linked to by Matthew (and now the main post), I'm pretty sure you WILL get the magazine. The "scam" is just that the subscriptions are badly overpriced, and the money doesn't go to help anyone who really needs it. If they were simply stealing our money, they would be easier to stop.

      Delete
  33. I just wrote a very lengthy comment on all of these matters and as I was finishing off grabbing links for you when I returned to this page my whole comment was removed. I'm really pissed about it right now. so long story short, I have never met these people, I have an interest because of an episode of disappeared which I will post the link. The Maurice. guy that runs to stain facebook page has him with a car and an airplane at his top photo. I wrote so much more but I just cannot stand to write it all again on this phone or I will rip my hair out. I was glad someone mentioned the drinking and fighting bc this girl was thrown out in the middle of the interstate and was hit and died and went missing to her family for over a year while being a part of these kinds of crew. I wrote more but I'm so frustrated with this little box to type in right now to think of it all. Great site, the best one out there. They provide no information so you provided most of what's available, people's experience.

    I'll come back on here soon,
    Disappeared - A Mother's Mission: https://youtu.be/Md3ZNiLBe08

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    1. *His Facebook page has an expensive car and airplane behind it as his top photo... Meanwhile his crews beat each other bloody and have to sell magazines to get their next meal. So strange!

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    2. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.facebook.com/public/Maurice-MCclain&ved=0CCEQFjABahUKEwjLve-VqJTHAhWBFJIKHVSUAPE&usg=AFQjCNFi8TRgpX4c968cWD4yCv6UKndWew&sig2=R2p8nqRsn8Sl0LaTFNg7nw

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    3. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/trapped-into-selling-magazines-door-to-door/388601/

      Delete
    4. Thanks very much for posting this Matthew -- and sorry you had to rewrite your post on your phone -- I know how that is. That Atlantic article is a real eye-opener; I've updated the main post above to include several quoted paragraphs from the article. It looks like this sort of thing has been going on for a long time, under many different names, and the salespeople are more victims than scammers. And some really unworthy people are getting very rich off of these scams.

      So anybody who cares about this stuff should read the Atlantic article that Matthew (and now I) link to. And I still think that an FTC complaint against whatever organization has approached you is the right approach. The Atlantic article only mentions the FTC once (in saying that some companies comply with some minimal FTC requirements), but that doesn't mean an FTC investigation won't shut some of these organizations down.

      Apparently Congress is too wimpy to do anything also -- a proposed bill in 1999-2001 was killed off by lobbying efforts of the Direct Selling Association.

      Looking forward to seeing your next post Matthew!

      Delete
    5. Well thank you for getting it. I had written all of this in depth thought on the lifestyle and lost it. Your reply had me looking up more and I found this Vlog by 2 young guys that just got fired. It's very interesting and the comments are mentioning the violence as well. https://youtu.be/-w7fObNWzMI

      Second thing I wanted to mention in this moment is that I looked up various people on Facebook mentioned in the Atlantic article. The girl in the beginning of the article that wants to get her babies out of the projects.. Well she is doing fine. She's posts pictures of her kids, has family and friend's support, etc. Sometimes I wonder about the various reasons people join. I feel some are joining as a way to keep up with their drinking and drug lifestyle, all while being able to say that they have a job to their families back at home. You want to send the money back to your kids, but how often and how much? The 'managers' seem to not really be concerned with your home life EXCEPT when it comes to your story. I feel like maybe many stories really are like this (theory) The girl knew her two kids were at a sisters or her mom's, taken from her bc her family told her she needs to get her life together, so to prove to the family she gets this 'job' which is really just escaping real responsibility. She soon finds that her money is just going to food, the motel, and also her contribution to any liquor that is brought. Like that Atlantic article said, if you want to go home and earned the funds it just seems like they find some way to keep you but eventually abandon you. That one woman abandoned 11 times although she's on and off dating a crew manager and is the mother of his baby? What a story that is, both parents traveling for 3 weeks away from the kids and sometimes the mom gets kicked out? What??!

      I read an article about a boy being badly beat and a bottle smashed over his head bc he brought back the wrong kind of beer. I'm afraid to go get the link and come back and this is deleted, haha. So I'll have some links for you, including the Facebook post that made me get re interested and also was the first time I saw the name Graceful Hands.

      Also did you notice that in the Atlantic article they mention one of the other companies this Maurice McClain guy runs. He does admit that crime of often a pattern in these people's lives and that people are let go when they display this behavior. But it just seems like they are escaping what they need to be doing at home and end up doing petty crime and getting involved with horribly intense people. Never ending, all so some guy can post photos of his car and possibly airplane saying 'look the company is a success and I'm case #1, I'm am example of what this company can do for young black men'. I understand it helps develop social skills, but can't that be in a class or club, not a job that actually would ruin your self esteem. I imagine myself going into it purely how I am right now and it would be so uncomfortable to repeat the same story all day. I bet you just have to blank out, get through the day. So yes, I feel that these sellers are definitely victims.. Some of them willing but I think it's because they actually think this is CLOSE to a real job, they are tricked knowing nothing else that this is prestigious. I just think they'd be better off at McDonalds where that check can actually be given to their children through her mom or sister watching the kids. I see nothing wrong with McDonalds, I go there very often and worked there before.
      Thanks for replying, this is such an engaging site, I feel we could make a documentary haha!

      Oh LAST THING, get this, morning after I first wrote on here I was talking to my mom about this and then the doorbell rang. Window replacement scams, said they did recent work in the neighborhood. My mom loves closing the door in the middle of their sentence. I googled that sort of thing and it's a whole OTHER ordeal, my gosh!

      Delete
    6. Links, one at a time bc I tried to do two and it deleted my comment, be warned this site does this.

      The Facebook post that I first saw Graceful Hands name which led me eventually to you. So going along with the tracking you've noted, they are on the east coast, NJ?
      https://m.facebook.com/NewportBuzz/photos/a.204497299569636.53611.201985873154112/1012520625433962/?type=1&source=48&refid=12&__tn__=E

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    7. After seeing that Disappeared episode a few years ago I came across this article and first learned about the lifestyle. Glad I found it again

      http://mobile.nytimes.com/2007/02/21/us/21magcrew.html?pagewanted=all&referrer=&_r=0

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    8. This site isn't so clean looking but they have real local articles of crimes committed and the story of the beat up guy for buying the wrong beer. if you scroll through its very interestinghttp://www.magazinesalescrews.com/

      Delete
    9. More about the two young guys on YouTube, I read this BBB review about that 'Strictly Business 1' that they worked for

      "Strickly Business 1, Inc. is now showing a contact address on its receipts at: 3820 W. Happy Valley, Ste. 141-195, Glendale, AZ 85310. That address is a UPS store where, apparently, the company has rented a mail box. The receipt also includes a website of www.stricklybiz1.com and e-mail contact at contacts@stricklybiz1.com. That website is barely functional with most menu choices appearing to be non-responsive."

      Is this all still connected back to the Maurice guy?

      Delete
    10. So bizarre! Probably not the same magazine crew as Graceful, but similar pitch and also am exclusive behind the scenes of regard Christmas is like on these magazine crews!
      https://youtu.be/3C5d0zX_rZU

      And the guy is in this Christmas video!!
      https://youtu.be/nRm6R7_3YyI

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    11. Oh if you look up 'Mag Crew' there is tons of videos. There is a short film called Mag Crew
      https://youtu.be/pmgUs1E63-0

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    12. Thanks for all this information and for the links Matthew. I checked them all out and this thing has now just about come full circle for me. It's not just the African American hard luck cases that Graceful Hands etc use -- that's just one technique. The other technique is the one I mentioned in my original post -- the girl that came to my apartment all those years ago was clearly part of a mag crew.

      I guess the black crews talk about improving themselves and getting out of trouble, and the white crews generally portray themselves as college students trying to win a contest or something. From the mag crew Christmas video, it looks like in some cases the crew members themselves may be taking in a lot of money. But the NYT mobile article -- http://mobile.nytimes.com/2007/02/21/us/21magcrew.html?pagewanted=all&referrer=&_r=0 -- makes it pretty clear that in many cases, the salespeople really are the victims, getting barely enough money to eat, and under constant threat of being abandoned hundreds or thousands of miles from home.

      I wonder if the whole "points" thing is just a tried and true way of making your "victims" feel sorry for you so they are more likely to buy the magazines. It seems to be the common thread here.

      And now I've come to realize that I was once part of something very much like a mag crew. Long ago I spent a summer selling books for Southwestern Company -- which I would have thought the internet would have put out of business, but which apparently still exists (http://www.southwestern.com/) -- which, in reality, uses a very similar technique -- getting sales by getting the customers to like you as a person, as opposed to for the sake of the product. I always thought it was different from magazine sales -- since nobody really wants or needs magazines, and everyone (I think) knows that you can get magazine subscriptions much much cheaper from just about any other source. But maybe it's essentially the same thing -- there are people at the top making tons of money off of selling people stuff they don't really want or need, for reasons apart from the quality of the product.

      So yeah, this whole "operation" really should be shut down. It's just organized "begging" where someone at the very top is just raking in money for no good economic reason. All that money should be going to real charities, or toward creating real jobs. I guess it's easy to see why Congress hasn't done anything about it -- the people who want to stop it are just individuals like you and me, but the people who want to keep it going have lots of money to spread around.

      I like your documentary idea too. If the issue had a bit more visibility, maybe something would happen. There are a lot of documentary film-makers out there -- I used to know some -- looking for subject matter. If anyone reading this knows one, just suggest this as a topic -- plenty of human interest, and real potential to make the world a better place by helping to stop these scams!

      Delete
    13. And on your question about "Strickly Business 1", with its contact address on its receipts of 3820 W. Happy Valley, Ste. 141-195, Glendale, AZ 85310 -- that's the same UPS store address that others have mentioned for Mailbox Media. So yes, it sounds like that's another Maurice McClain outfit.

      Delete
    14. Insanity!! All of this! Thank you, You are awesome to talk to.. I like reading back your summary of all of our comments and all of the new insight you add. And just think of how far long this particular blog has been going on and what we've just added. You are right, it should all be shut down bc it's pointless and just goes on going nowhere. Like I think I mentioned, it's like running away from actually fulfilling responsibilities by pretending you have a job but really you are just begging and then partying. I'm sure it's hell at times, but what would be hell for me (those car ride Mag Crew videos on YouTube where they are white kids yelling over rap music, nobody is sitting in their seats and the driver is leaned back so far would be hell!!) was an absolute blast and time of their life for them. I think they just don't like the work part and so it causes frustration among them. Who andld like to do this? You know, my brother is a marine and they party so hard and a lot of them are underaged. They beat each other up as well when someone takes a granola bar. These kids are thinking they are signing up to be heroes of the country and although they learn skill I'm sure, the underaged partying and the physical, emotional and verbal abuse is totally accepted bc they want to own you. My brother is fine with this, but that's bc he has proudly said he's worth nothing else and that he's not smart like 'others'. Sorry to offend anybody, but I find these Mag crews to have similar recruitment tactics to the military, so maybe there is an overall acceptance of the behavior in these Mag crews bc it's 'what they have to do to be the best'... Like how our marines thinks calling each other homos and p***ys works to build strength. Getting beat by your 12 bunk mates at night for taking a granola bar (and causing everybody to do push ups) is a way to keep the team together. Makes me sad and sick, but then glad that I'm aware of what it is as well. Thanks again for this blog. I'll check in but as for now that's everything interesting I've ever found on this subject. Now I just have to MEET ONE, lol!! ;)

      Delete
    15. Awesome talking to you too. I guess to be fair -- and based on the comments to the "Mag Crew" video (the half-hour one), there probably are some mag crews where the salespeople have fun and make money both, and see the world into the bargain. That was sort of the point of Southwestern. But really it's all just "begging" -- "selling" overpriced stuff to nice people that they don't need.

      And you're right, when you get a bunch of undereducated young men together -- whether it be in the marines or in mag crews -- you'll likely get drinking and violence. Of course, with the marines, the violence part is kind of what we want them for. I did a write up on Shakespeare's solution to the "young man" problem here: http://pricefixer.blogspot.com/2015/06/shakespeare-quote-of-day-no-1.html

      Stop by again when you have a chance, and feel free to comment on the other posts on this blog, no matter how old they are -- there's a lot in here that could change the world (haha). I always write back (well, almost always).

      Delete
  34. The same group is still in Boston, MA. Just tonight my husband was being talked into writing a $360 check for Mailbox Media through Graceful Hands. An young African-American women knocked on our door and asked for donation to help neighborhood kids and education, and also described herself as a single mother working hard to support her family, and said 30% commission will go to herself. The magazines were quoted as $3 each and my husband agreed to buy 5, for $15, then magically it became $360 as they needed to be bought for 2 years hence 24 issues. Feeling sympathetic towards the lady, he still reluctantly wrote the check. But after a quick online check of the organization and getting his brain back, he regretted writing the check to support such an exploitive group. Luckily he saw the women was still nearby in the neighborhood, approached her, offer her $20 cash instead to support her, and got the check back. The lady tried really hard to defend her employer's business mode. Yet it is pretty sad that she was also one of the victims being taken advantage of by this organization. There has been several similar organizations coming door-to-door soliciting every summer, some are for environmental causes, but similarly vague and not verifiable. I guess we will just have to learn to say 'no thanks' from now on.

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    1. Glad you were able to get the money back!! It sure is hard to say "no" when they are standing right in front of you and telling you their life story. Maybe it's safest for people like us just not to answer the door!

      (I recently gave $20 to one of those "environmental causes" -- something called "Clean Water Action" -- mainly because the person who knocked on my door seemed so earnest and passionate about the subject. I checked up on it later, and I think it's legitimate, but I do resent their business model (door-to-door solicitation) a little bit).

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  35. They are in Orlando now. I knew I was being scammed, but I really liked Malcolm. He had REAL battle scars as well. The problem is, IF his story was true ( the stab wounds were clearly real) then he is off the streets and actually being productive. Isnt that something positive for him? Havent I given him some faith in humanity? Not sure......

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  36. This is the second time I have had a scam of this type here in Houston. The first time I gave away $330. His story was similarly compelling; young and destitute, turning his life around saga. I checked the website when the magazines didnt arrive then tried to dial the number and got an answering machine...subsequently I was too late. The second time I was much more savvy. The story and the type of organisation changed slightly however the man was young, back, and told me he needed 20,000 signatures/investors so he could be promoted in the Gracefulhands organisation. I asked for the website details and his cell number so I could call him back if he was legitimate. As you all know its not a legitimate website and the referenced phone number dials T-mobile service center. I think the young man believed he was doing the right thing as he gave me a legitimate number. They are the real victims in this fraud.

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  37. They are now in Corpus Christi Texas. As I was writing my check out 2 policemen pulled up and told me it was a scam. They ran the guy off but he came back to my house 2 more times trying to talk me into giving him a check. The 2nd time he came in was loading stuff in my car and he appeared out of the dark. Scared me to death. Told him he better get away from me or I was calling the cops. Same guy as above from Memphis, TN. Keshun Renfro? #604 is what receipt says that I picked up when I took my check back. MAILBOX MEDIA.

    ReplyDelete
  38. This just happened to me on Friday - it was Graceful Hands, Business Development and Mailbox Media. I gave him $44 cash and he said he would put the additional $20 to make it the minimum $64. I wont be getting my cash back, but I'm most worried about the info I gave on the receipt - name and phone number and signature.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right to be concerned about handing out personal information to strangers these days (especially ones who are already operating under semi-fraudulent pretenses), but I don't think you have anything to worry about in this case. I think they are very happy just to have the money, especially cash. Thanks for writing.

      Delete
  39. Same story, in Fresno, CA tonight. Mailbox Media. Cancelled the check and changed the bank account. Feeling pretty dumb.

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  40. Hello,
    Unfortunately, same story here as well in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gracefulhands, Inc. East Point, GA is the address on donation receipt. We have also had a rash of burglaries in our neighborhood, so there is always the suspension that the individuals are casing the neighborhood/houses for later access. It is sad that we can't feel comfortable talking to people, and for me I felt as though I was profiling...but on the other side I just didn't feel that the whole thing was legit, and the individual was very forceful in his presentation. I gave a small donation check, I don't want a magazine. I too will be vigilantly checking my account.

    Very sad commentary on the state of our society...

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for writing, and sorry to hear about the burglaries. Of course, there is no way to tell if the burglaries are related, but it wouldn't completely surprise me. The individuals who are asking for your money aren't getting a whole lot for themselves; it's easy to imagine that they might be looking for ways to make money on the side.

      If you're right, then that would be a very unfortunate byproduct of this kind of an operation -- rather than helping these unfortunate individuals grow, they are helping them to help themselves to other people's hard-earned property.

      Delete
  41. Seattle, WA

    Mailbox Media is in Seattle now. I was approached by a polite, smart, interesting, and clever man who is working as a door to door agent selling books and magazines for Mailbox Media. Same scenerio as described by others. I sensed that he is trapped in the Mailbox Media system, and that he knows little about his whereabouts, and that he may have no independence and no personal spending money. I believed all along that there was a scam underlying his sales pitch, but it was not clear to what degree, and if the agent knows the true nature of the business model he is caught up in. There is very little public information about this company. Their website contains no information: http://mailboxmedia.us/index.html

    To the agent who came to my door, I hope you can find a way out of Mailbox Media, and that a trustworthy and ethical employer can provide you with a job that pays the bills. Take care of yourself, and don't forget to feed your hungry mind/spirit.

    ReplyDelete
  42. On 2/21/16 at 4:30 pm they are on Bainbridge Island, WA. Same story as everyone tells above. I basically told the guy that my past research has led me to believe that the outfits doing what he is doing are scams and the people selling the mags or asking for donations are usually being used and/or not getting much for their efforts. I asked if he was the only one on the island and he said yes. I said that normally there are numerous individuals walking around as a group when this has happened in our neighborhood in the past. He claimed he lived in Bremerton, which is nearby and that he was on his own today. Claims he makes really good money doing what he does and that it helps him and son survive.

    Couldn't decide if I should call 911 and let the local police know the scam was cruising the neighborhood. It's sunday, so 911 was the only option. Have decided to wait until normal hours tomorrow and not clog up the system for more important things.

    I greatly appreciate this site as it immediately confirmed what I assumed the moment I opened the door and the young guy had that laminated flyer with him.

    He didn't get angry or start giving me grief. Said to look up www.gracefulhands.org and if I wanted to donate to flag him down on the street. Couldn't give me a number to reach him and he gave me a name, that I would bet money wasn't real. Just a name they take off the pull down list on the Graceful hands site.

    Thanks for posting all this.

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome and thank you for writing. I still have mixed feelings about all of this, because the people that are used to beg for our money seem like people who really could use it and maybe even deserve it. But sadly, the business model that somebody is getting rich on seems to be based precisely on that sentiment.

      Delete
  43. Had the same things happen this week in Denver, co. (Stapleton) I am always worried about anger when I say no and my family's safety is worth the minimum accepted purchase of $64 (sigh) but I feel so bullied. I won't give a check because I'm concerned about fraud. Can someone steal money from your checking account once they have your check? If you ever discover a way to complain or do something about this I'd like to know.

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    1. Forgot to mention his company was mailbox media.

      Delete
  44. Arlington, VA: I feel so conflicted because I fell for this scam. A very nice man named Brian with a hard luck story that included growing up in the roughest parts of Chicago, having 4 children, a bullet wound, etc. etc. showed up a our house and went through the exact same garbled story lines described by others. Mailbox media was listed on the "receipt" I received and he hand-wrote Graceful Hands website down as well. He would not accept a direct donation, so I went ahead and bought a book for $144. I hope it helped him. I hate that he might have been being exploited. When I found all this information on the website I felt both angry and ripped off -- I feel very bad about the whole transaction.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for writing, and I hope it helped him too. The "salepeople" are so convincing that sometimes I wonder if they are simply actors. But then again, I guess they just get a lot of practice, going from door to door, teling the same story. And reality can be even more convincing than acting.

      Let's hope that Brian was a good guy, and that your contribution improved his life in some way.

      Delete
  45. Mail Box Media is now in Mount Vernon, Fleetwood, and Bronxville New York: I am sad reading all of this knowing we all want to help someone turn their life around and it turns out to be a scam...same scenario...kid trying to get off drugs and this is his first job, wants to go to college and be in the criminal justice system. He did seem like a newbie because he said he did not want to leave and go to other houses...I even gave him pointers of how to better approach people and be more confident (uhhh!) my guess they are all being exploited -this guy seemed so sweet, no family- we even talked about how he reads his Bible and praying...an hour later I hear my neighbor yelling 'get off my lawn', so I walked over to see what was happening...apparently one of his mates punched my neighbor in the face, and jumped in a white van that drove away...I was so upset I had to research the company which lead me to all the comments...I too bought a subscription and donated it to Children's International...will be vigilant checking my credit card. I do hope however, that not just my donation helped this guy improve his life, but also our 30 minute talk of getting an education, work life, God, and helping others who are in need.

    I will be filing an FTC complaint...these scams need to stop!

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    1. Thanks for writing -- this is the first report that I've had of actual violence in connection with this enterprise. Filing a complaint with the FTC is the right thing to do; after you do that, please come back here and give us an update. I don't know how well the FTC protects your anonymity, but if you're comfortable sharing the FTC reference number with us, I'd be happy to post it on the main post so that others can refer to it.

      Delete
  46. Just had these people in Lakeville, Mn. Wasted a bunch of my time, and yep same story. So convincing! Converted gang member taking care of his 6 year old son by himself. Trying to become a youth pastor.

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  47. some guy planting hostsMay 22, 2016 at 4:03 PM

    Lexington, Massachusetts.
    This afternoon as I was on my knees planting along my driveway, at the end of a dead end street, I was approached by 2 black men with the same story as so many others here have told. I felt sincerely bad for them as they were both very thin and ill-dressed, but both wearing shabby ties and trying to appear respectable.

    They said they were from Chicago and when I asked them how they found themselves in Lexington, they just went on with the sales pitch. I never heard of any of the magazines on their list, and wouldn't have bought them anyways, so I offered them $30 in cash, which was all I had on me at the time. While they tried to get me to give more, they weren't aggressive about it, and frankly I was hoping they'd use the money for themselves, but one can't ever really know, can one?

    I honestly felt really bad for these men, but not bad enough to fall for an obvious scam. I do believe however that they are being exploited, and can't imagine how bad their lives must be to be doing this. I sure hope that they kept my $30 for themselves.

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  48. I felt bad for the salesman who came today, 6/5/16, and I bought books to send to Children's Hospital because I don't want magazine, but I really do not like this model and would not do it again. He started out talking about Black Lives Matter, and I thought he was with them at first.

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    1. It's hard not to be sympathetic when the person is standing right there. I just gave $100 to a woman in a parking lot (they do that around here -- they have an index card that says they don't speak English and they have hungry children) and sometimes it's just hard to resist. Even if she makes a good living begging like that -- and maybe she does -- I still think she needed the money more than I do, and I didn't mind giving it to her. At least that's how I justified it to myself. In that respect, it's different from buying subscriptions to Graceful Hands, because most of your money there goes to support the luxurious lifestyles of the fat cats behind it all.

      Delete
    2. Yep...seen that scam too...there are no hungry kids it's for drugs. NEVER give people money, ever.

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    3. This one actually showed me a car full of kids and her mother, and they all thanked me personally. So it might not have been drugs, but it was pretty easy money for her....

      Delete
  49. Same scam...they are in Chelmsford, MA today.

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  50. In Westford, Ma. Same script leading with Helpful Hands.org, trying to get my life back on track etc. The issue I have is that when it came time to cut a check for a magazine it was going to Mailbox Media, so I checked out all the complaints and will be putting a stop on the check. It's too bad these companies make people leery of giving, and screw it up for legit organizations.

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  51. In natick MA today... Not sure how much of it actually gets to people in need, but I gave her $50 check... Now time to put up that no soliciting sign I've been thinking about putting up

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  52. Westford, MA yesterday. Very nice woman said she wanted to better herself and was asking residents what they did in life to better themselves. (nice little ego stroking). I gave them a credit card payment and wife is going to murder me so I need to go cancel today. The sales rep did say they receive 30-85% commission and the book pricing is a ridiculous joke, like $60 for a kids book. So I'm assuming sales rep gets like $30, company gets like $25 and the $5 book goes to a charity.

    I truly felt bad for the sales rep and she had a nice story of how people from her area are all on government assistance and she is trying to get her way out but after reading and thinking about this more I strongly disagree with it. She said they give them housing for the summer to do this work, so I get that. However the rep would've been waaaaay more authentic dragging children's books door to door to sell for a small profit. I'm glad they are trying to better themselves but I really can't afford to be tossing $60 to a company for someone to better themselves under the guise of a weird non-profit relationship.

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  53. Westford, MA on June 8th, I was greeted by a polite Lamarcus Wilson at my home with a similar hard-luck story as told by many others on this website. He started into his pitch when I stopped him mid-sentence, and asked him to get to the point, asking what type of donation he was asking for. He said he's getting to it and that, "he is working here", and so I let him continue. It's all cookie cutter from the above comments; being from down South with kids to raise, to how hard life has been, etc. I told him that I am generally a suspicious person and I would never just hand over a check. He actually suggested that we can talk inside. Really? I suggested that I take a pic of his laminated card and check out his organization. He had no problem with me doing so. I said goodbye, and he headed off up the street. I'm glad I found this website, because I really wanted to donate, and I always feel a bit guilty when I don't give to others. I have been fortunate in life and realize others have not, however, I won't be played for a fool.

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  54. I'm in a suburb of Albany, NY. Found this site after a visit from Graceful Hands yesterday afternoon (wrote a $25 donation check; he was quick to end the visit once I decided to go that route).
    I had seen him walking (without a car nearby) towards our development earlier in the day and figured I'd get a visit at some point! It was over 90 degrees and he was in a tie and jacket-I did feel for him.
    Had someone come in years past with a similar model of operation -- both times was struck by the fact that they have a well-worn laminated book with pages of info that they hardly refer to, rather they seem rush to the $$ part.
    I had no idea of the whole backstory-fascinating and depressing. The business model is a play on white guilt for sure...

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    1. Thanks for writing Ruth. We don't really know the whole backstory, but maybe some day we will. In the meantime, I think you're right -- it's a thriving business model built on white guilt.

      Maybe the best bet is just to tell them to tell their bosses that you will donate the money to the NAACP.

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  55. These folks really get around. They're in southeastern Pennsylvania today. I live in one of the Philadelphia suburbs in Delaware County. My guy greatly appealed to my Christian sensibilities, spoke of his personal faith in Jesus, and I almost fell for it. The only thing that tipped me off was that, the moment I opened the door, his first response was to assure me that he wasn't reaching out about politics "or religion." But religion was very central to his personal story, so the inconsistency put me on guard. Fortunately, I left my phone inside and so I excused myself for a moment so I could call my wife about which book to consider ordering, and that's where I went on the Internet and found your Web site. Thanks for the help!

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    1. Glad to help William, and thanks for reporting the location. They are definitely well-trained to appeal to our sensibilities, whatever they may be!

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  56. I am in Fairfax, VA, I fell for it. He showed me a check my neighbor wrote for $120 and inwardly I was like, 'whaaa???!!! Why is this so expensive??' But I had cash so I wanted to help. The whole thing just didnt feel right, but I had to give him credit for this 'work' he was doing. He expected me to give $240 for buying books for inner-city schools, but I 'only' gave $120, which 'only' qualified as a donation - weird. Oh well, at least it was just cash.

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    1. Thanks for writing Angela. I just took a look at their current website and updated the original blog post (above). Some of your money certainly went to a good cause -- it helps teach people like your "salesperson" presentation skills and also keep them off the street.

      I don't think the idea of buying books for inner-city schools is part of the organization's mission -- perhaps this guy was trying to make some money for himself on the side. Of course, I could be wrong -- I'd be interested to hear if others have heard this particular pitch.

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  58. Winston-Salem, NC. Just had a visit from Maggie, someone purportedly with a domestic violence issue who has had to "relocate" from Georgia and is now trying to earn enough to get her kids back, basically. The pitch was literacy and magazines and donating the subscriptions to a local organization (YMCA, Boys and Girls Club or a battered women's shelter where she said she had experience). Urban Development Solutions was the front page on the binder with her credentials but then Graceful Hands was the charity and Mailbox Media the recipient on the order form. She would get a commission from the sale, the more years (from two up to four) the higher percentage. The conflicting organizations thing put me on suspicion so I fumbled and "couldn't find the checkbook" but asked her to stop back by. I certainly won't buy magazines from a 3rd party at ridiculous markup. If I want to donate a subscription to my local Y I will ask if they want one. I was going to donate to Graceful Hamds but the Flint, MI and then Atlanta, GA conflict gave me pause and the website - as others observe - doesn't do anything to convince me they are not a ripoff. I hope she stops back by and gives me enough time to get more of a story and then I might just give her some money. Contrasting with other individuals in this picture though she said she is 47 and I believe her.

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    1. Thanks for sharing Stuart. If she comes back and gives you more of a story, please let us know what the story is!

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  60. On June 27, 2016 my husband let 2 polite young black men into our home. The one was just a trainee the other named Keshun gave us the same story as all the others. First it was just children books for $64 but by the time he was finished we spend $326 on books and magazine subscriptions. As of today Nov 7,2016 we have not received one book or magazine. I'm very angry as they took advantage of our good nature. My husband is a salesman and works long hrs so he felt sorry for them. So now we are out all that money that we could of used to buy Christmas presents for our two very young grandchildren. Never again will I give money to anyone who comes to my door.

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    1. I'm very sorry to hear it Deb. It sounds like not only is the basic concept a ripoff (i.e. selling overpriced stuff based on sob stories), but they don't even follow through on their sales. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  61. The company they worked for was Mailbox Media.

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  62. They (mailbox media) is in Ogden, Utah now 11/16/2016. Same story as above I got swindled and gave him a chech for $94. After he left I did some research and called my bank to cancel the check.Now I'm a little concerned about retaliation. Has anyone had issues with that? Do the canceled checks usually stop the payment? Thanks for all this info

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    1. There is nothing they can do unless they can prove you received something without paying for it.

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  63. Same thing in Burlingame CA. Would be interested to find out what happens after I stopped the cheque? Do they bother with any follow through?

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    1. There is nothing they can do unless they can prove you received something without paying for it.

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