People who are reportedly knocking on the doors of Aiken County residents in an effort to sell them children's books have people concerned, but the Aiken County Sheriff's Office is urging people not to be alarmed.
Calls began coming in to the Sheriff's Office on Wednesday morning, according to Capt. Eric Abdullah, a spokesman.
“From time to time, our communities are invaded by the door-to-door salesperson that knocks on our door in order to sell their wares,” the Sheriff's Office said in a statement, adding that a community is often taken off guard when someone they are unfamiliar with comes into their neighborhood to sell items. The statement was posted on Facebook and the Sheriff's Office website.
The Sheriff's Office has received “many different levels of concerns” about men and women going door to door and selling children's books in Aiken County. Abdullah said the salespeople came to the Sheriff's Office a couple of weeks ago and told authorities they would be selling children's books in the community.
They also showed police the products they planned to sell to customers.
Kristy Garvin, whose family lives between Wagener and Couchton, said they were visited by one of the salespeople about 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The man was “very clean cut,” had an ID card and a backpack, spoke broken English and said he was a student, Garvin said.
“He didn't ring the door bell; he just knocked on the door lightly,” she said. “My husband barely heard. He kind of snuck up on us.”
Garvin said her husband spoke with the man and told him it was a bad time because they were trying to get their children to bed. She called county dispatch, which put her in touch with a Sheriff's deputy. Garvin said she also called Sheriff Michael Hunt on Wednesday morning, after which he referred her to the Facebook post.
The concern has also stirred speculation and even rumors about a possible child abduction taking place in Aiken County.
“It's making parents around here very uncomfortable,” she said. “They can say they are legit, but that is not bringing comfort to any of us that are full-time, stay-at-home mothers by ourselves.”
Garvin said she wants to know if a background check is done on groups selling door to door. According to Abdullah, a license is not necessary to sell door to door unless you are in the incorporated areas of the county. The cities of Aiken and North Augusta require a business license for such selling, he said.
More than 40 people commented on the Sheriff's Office post on Facebook, many saying the salespeople are foreign students recruited to sell products such as books door to door in the United States. Some noted that the books they were selling are high priced.
“They probably have a quota of houses they have to contact daily, which is why they sometimes show up at odd hours and seem pushy by American standards,” one poster wrote. “They ask about kids in the neighborhood so they know which houses could potentially buy from them and which ones to skip.”
Another poster urged people to be cautious – about answering the door for a stranger but also about circulating rumors and stories they hear. She called the claims of child abduction “outlandish” and “false.”
Abdullah said officers from the Sheriff's Office and other agencies have made contact with these individuals “while they have been out in the community, verifying their identity and their business in the neighborhood.”
“Currently, we have not identified any immediate hazards or threats from these salesmen conducting their business by going door to door,” the statement said, adding that residents are urged to call law enforcement if they see any suspicious activity.
“Just be mindful of what's going on in your neighborhood,” Abdullah said. “If you see a crime in progress or see suspicious activity, please call law enforcement. Try not to take matters into your own hands. If you're not sure of somebody who's knocking at your door, don't answer.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.