I had forgotten about this story until I recently started listening to the ScamWow podcast. The podcast is done by 2 young comediennes who discuss the ins and outs of well-known scams. It’s super interesting and I am kind of obsessed with it. Then I got to thinking about a scam that I was almost involved in, so I emailed the hosts of ScamWow to tell them about it. They said that they’ll read my story in a future episode, which is super cool. But here’s the story just for you all.

It was 1996, I was just out of college, with my newly minted degree in marketing. I needed a job, and I desperately wanted to move out of home in Connecticut and relocate to Boston. The internet wasn't much of a thing yet, so researching and applying for jobs was super manual. I didn’t even have an email address anymore, as I’d graduated and my acad.bryant.edu email address had lapsed once I moved my tassel to the other side of my cap.

My strategy for applying for jobs was to drive north to Springfield Massachusetts on Sundays just to procure a copy of the Boston Globe—the newspaper that covered Boston. Occasionally I’d also go to the public library and see if they had a copy of AdWeek and see if there were any ads in Boston. I also found three recruiters that I called three times per week to pester them for any job listings. It was an exhausting time to be alive.

I saw an ad in the Globe for a hot new advertising company in Woburn, MA—just north of Boston. My resume received a response from this outfit, called Winners Advertising. I donned a suit I likely acquired from the Chadwicks of Boston catalog and drove nearly 2 hours to get there for the 9 AM interview. There was a big white fluffy dog in the office who greeted me.

I met with the guy who told me that they worked with big companies like Pizzeria Uno, and a lot of pager companies--which was still the rage back then. They said that there will be on the job training in marketing, PR and management training. I had an internship at a PR firm in Providence, and I absolutely loved my internship. I learned quite a bit there and the idea of getting more relevant on the job training was definitely a selling point. As per usual, salary wasn’t discussed as usually that’s the last thing that gets discussed in the hiring process. (I still don’t understand why that is. I feel like you waste a ton of time getting interviewed just to find out at the very end that the salary isn’t want you wanted. Seems silly.) The interview went well because they asked me to come back the next day for an observation day. I thought that was interesting, I had envisioned getting to hang out in the office, attend meetings, and shadow someone as they plan a campaign or something like that.

The next day I put on another suit, this one was not from Chadwicks, heels, hose, and it was a hot August summer day and I was going to impress the hell out of these people. I drove the 2 hours again. On that day I would be observing Manny, and also he would be training a new hire named Rita. OK, cool, I’d get to see what the on the job training would be like.

Instead of going to his desk, or to a conference room, we got into his car and we drove about a half hour to Lowell, MA. Manny was telling me all about how he was going to make 6 figures as a manager at Winners and how exciting the opportunity was. I asked him what we’d be doing that day, and he kept on with how exciting it was that I was there.

We got out his car and were assaulted by the oppressive summer heat. We parked on a sketchy street with run down houses. He walked up to one of them, knocked on the door. A woman wearing a muumuu opened the door, more ash than cigarette hanging from her mouth, and Manny explained he was there to sell her a pager. She fished hers out of her ample bosom, went wrist deep to get it out, and held it out to compare it to the one Manny was selling.

Then it hit me. This was the job. This exciting opportunity was to go door to door selling things like Pizzeria Uno coupon books, pagers, whatever client du jour they were working on. I knew I wasn't interested in selling door to door, no base salary, just commission. I wasn’t interested in sales positions. I wanted a corporate marketing job. I wanted nothing to do with commission. He sent Rita to a few of the houses to train her, as she'd actually signed on to do the job.

The thing was I couldn't escape. I rode with him. My car was a half hour away in Woburn. All day long he badgered me with what a great opportunity the job was, and how Rita would be raking it in. (She didn't make a single sale that day, but whatever. I think he made one, and it was to the muumuu lady.) We stopped for lunch at Subway, and I definitely noticed that he bought the cheapest thing on the menu—I think it may have been a cheese and lettuce sandwich with a 5 cent cup for water.

My feet ached, my suit drenched in sweat, we walked and walked all day long door to door. Then it was quitting time. On the way back to Woburn he again badgered me about what a great opportunity I had in front of me. By then I was furious. I felt duped, but I also felt angry with myself for not noticing the signs. The problem was, the signs were very creatively obscured.

"I'm going to make six figures, they'll make me a manager," he said.

"And then what will you do as a manager? Send other dumb kids into shitty neighborhoods to have them go door to door? This job is bogus," I replied.

He pulled the car over and had Rita get out of the car. He left her on the side of the road half way back to Woburn. We pulled away and she was just standing there looking around as if to say "now what?" Remember, this was before cell phones were everywhere.

"You're just going to leave her there?" I asked.

"She had an errand to run," he replied vaguely. "I'll pick her up later."

"Oh, is she buying a lawnmower with her six figures?" I asked. He'd left her in front of a John Deere dealership.

I was talking trash about the job and he couldn't have a new hire exposed to that kind of talk. Which is how scams are perpetuated. When someone figures it out, they need to be quarantined from all the believers. He needed Rita to stay in the job because that would help him get to the manager level. He also likely picked a site far away from any means of escape so I had to stay the whole day with him and listen to his endlessly going on and on about how amazing the company was. He brought me back to my car and asked me again whether I wanted in on this amazing opportunity. I told him hell no, hobbled back to my car and peeled out.

I learned a lesson that day. Any legit company will not mind if you ask questions during the interview process. “What’s the average day like?” I remember getting a call back on my resume where the hiring manager told me the job was for “Environmental Marketing.” Those are two buzz words I like. I like things that are good for the environment, and I wanted a marketing job. But I asked the probing question “What is environmental marketing?” And if you think about it, putting those two words together does not make sense. Like, you can do a type of marketing, like email marketing, web marketing, PR and marketing. What in the hell is environmental marketing? When I asked I learned that environmental marketing involved a multi-level marketing scam that involved selling water filters. Winners Advertising taught me to politely cut through the bull shit ahead of time to save me from enduring another day going door to door with the likes of Manny. I told the environmental marketing people I wasn’t interested and hung up.

I ended up getting a job at a software company in Burlington, MA, and an apartment in Melrose. I drove through Woburn on the way to work, just once I saw the big white fluffy dog in the window at the Winners Advertising office. Then I didn't see him anymore.

I've heard of other companies like this popping up in other cities. My friend Nikki had the same exact experience some 10 years later in Providence. I googled it and it's all over the scam web sites and people have told their stories of getting conned into going door to door for companies like this. I read about them on Rip Off Report and I still wonder what Manny is doing now, and how long it took him to go back and pick up Rita from the John Deere dealership.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.