El Paso parents concerned about Estonians selling educational books, company responds
Parents turned to CBS4 On Your Side concerned about young Estonians going door-to-door selling books. A private Facebook group for El Paso moms had El Pasoans posting concerns about Estonians selling educational books showing up on their doorstep. The parents worried about the questions they asked about their kids and their neighbors, and the posts were even going as far as speculating that they are part of a possible "human trafficking scam.”
One mother from Clint said an Estonian showed up at her door at 8:30 p.m.
“It was a man. He knocked on the door. I was alone with my two small children,” Tracy Stanwick said. "He's, like, ‘I just went and talk to your neighbor over here’ and said her name and, ‘Oh, she was telling me about her family and this and that. What do you think about them?’ And I was just, like, ‘That's none of your business.’"
Stanwick said she never felt threatened, but she felt uneasy because of the aggressive and persistent approach.
"It took four or five tries for me to get him to leave,” Stanwick said. “I asked him ... ‘OK you are a foreign exchange student, for what school?’ And he couldn’t answer me. And I was, like, ‘What’s the organization that you work for?’ And he couldn’t answer me. That was another red flag. Like, you want all of this personal information about me and the people that live around me, but you can’t answer my questions?”
Another parent, Michael Fernandez, was approached while cooking outside at nearly 10 p.m.
“I was kind of stuck there because I was grilling and I’m very, I don’t want to say a pushover, but it’s hard for me to [say no],” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said he tried to politely decline for the next 45 minutes. He said finally he signed up for a $20-a-month-program just to get the man to leave.
"I want to say the assertiveness, maybe it was a different cultural kind of thing,” Fernandez said.
CBS4 On Your Side tracked down some of the door-to-door walkers from Estonia. They told our reporter they work for a company called Southwestern Advantage.
"This is actually the 160th summer for this company,” said employee Triinu Arulla. “It's basically like an exchange program."
The young women said they study back at home, and selling books in Texas is their summer job.
"We sell children's books for like little troublemakers to get them excited about learning all the way to the end of high schoolers to get better grades,” explained employee Kristel Targem.
”So we gain some business skills, communication skills and also [learn] English,” Arulla said.
They told CBS4 that they all wear uniforms, and carry identification at all times.
One West El Paso parent, Maria Vasquez, told CBS4 the girls were a delight.
“Oh yeah, they are great. There are very sweet,” Vasquez said. “I bought a book. I bought the math set."
When our CBS4 On Your Side reporter told the Estonian girls that some parents were concerned, they said this is a legitimate company, and parents should not be worried at all.
“Our English isn’t that great sometimes so we can be misunderstood, but we are trying to do our best and help all of the families we can. We are getting better every day,” Arulla said.
CBS4 On Your Side found the city does not require permits or registration for door-to-door sales.
El Paso Police said that as with any transaction, El Pasoans should be diligent before opening their doors to anyone who they do not know, and as always, if there's any hint of a doubt, trust your instincts.