Police dispel social media post hyping child traffickers in Kentucky

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CYNTHIANA, Ky. (WKYT) - Recently a Facebook post went viral claiming people who are going door-to-door in various parts of Kentucky while selling children's books are actually child traffickers.

“This is completely false. It’s untrue. And it’s malicious in fact, because the rumors that go around like that jeopardize people who are hardworking and working legally with permits,” Director of Communications for Southwestern Advantage Trey Campbell said, “It’s very easy to hit a share button on social media and it’s very easy to pass along information but it’s also a sad statement of society when people don’t check the facts before they do that.”

“In answering the question why we still go door-to-door, you know, why would we not go door to door? It’s one of the best ways for college students to gain experience in life,” Campbell said.

Evelina Petrovaite, 23, is in the process of obtaining her Master’s degree in her home country of Lithuania. But for the summer, she along with hundreds of other students from Europe, Canada and the United States work as independent contractors for Southwestern Advantage, a well-known publisher and direct seller of educational children’s books.

"Why I’m doing this is because it helps me pay for my school and it's a super cool experience to meet all of the cool families in the United States,” Petrovaite said.

Every single independent contractor who works for Southwestern Advantage carries a business card, wears a badge with their picture on it, carries a book bag, and wears a shirt and a hat with the company's name on it. They also carry their solicitor's license with them to each house they go up to.

Campbell says each contractor also receives a background check, is checked against the National Sex Offender Registry and must check in with local police before beginning their job in the particular city they’re working for the summer.

“When the student’s come to the door, the first thing they want to do is clearly identify themselves and what they’re doing. And they will usually try to establish rapport. So they might ask a few questions after comfort level has been established and credibility has been established as to who they are and what they’re doing about the family’s needs for education in the home,” Campbell explained.

Several police departments across Central Kentucky are also going as far as trying to debunk the rumors themselves.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s released the following statement on Facebook: “The Shelby County Sheriffs Office has received several calls regarding Southwestern Advantage Book Sales and their salesman Reimo Magi who is assigned this area. It has been stated that he is a human trafficker from Russia. While we appreciate the due diligence of our community, he IS NOT A HUMAN TRAFFICER. Reimo has come to the Shelby County Sheriffs Office and provided us with background checks, passports, and all of his permits to solicit in Shelby County. He also is not from Russia, but he is a college student that is here for the summer. He will be leaving the area in August to go back to school.”

The Cynthiana Police Department released the following statement on Facebook: “ We would just like to let everyone know that a young lady by the name of Evelina Petrovaite will be in Cynthiana for the next couple of days selling books. Ms. Petrovaite has a license to solicit and came to us asking that we let everyone know she is legitimate. If you see this young lady please give her a warm welcome!”

The BBB also released a statement dispelling the rumors, stating in part: "BBB alerts consumers of false and alarming social media posts that contain serious allegations concerning the intentions of students selling products for Southwestern Advantage, a well-known publisher and direct seller of educational children’s books. These bogus claims have caused unnecessary panic and concern for communities and consumers across the United States."

Campbell said rumors such as this one can affect the student’s safety.

“It can create a panic in the communities that these students are serving. We have found that this rumor going around has put the students at risk and we’re doing what we can to debunk the rumor and let people know ‘hey it’s ok, these college students are actually doing what they say they’re doing which is selling educational products,” Campbell said.

Petrovaite is working for her third summer in a row for Southwestern Advantage.

"We don't want to scare anybody; we don't want to do anything like that. We just want to be heard that we're not doing anything bad here,” Petrovaite said.

“We as a society just need to do a better job of filtering the things that we put on Facebook and the things that we pass along,” Campbell said.

If someone comes to your door soliciting, it is smart to be aware. Citizens can ask to see their badge, business card and their solicitor's permit. With Southwestern Advantage, the public can go to their website and enter the contractor's name to make sure they are a valid contractor.

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