5 On Your Side

Raleigh woman victim of magazine scheme

Posted October 3, 2011 5:32 p.m. EDT
Updated October 3, 2011 7:03 p.m. EDT

With dozens of books and hundreds of movies already filling Jessica Barkdull's apartment shelves, what's a couple of magazines?

After all, Barkdull was certain her heart was in the right place.

"I didn't want the magazines. I just wanted to help him," she said.

But now she feels pretty certain that the clean-cut, friendly, go-getter-sounding guy named Pharaun Gilchrist got the best of her – or at least her money.

"He was very convincing. He had his whole story laid out. He had an answer for every question you had, Barkdull said.

Gilchrist was selling magazines door to door at apartments at North Carolina State University. His story: He was so close to winning a competition with a company called MTS Circulation. It would get him a free trip to Europe, and more importantly, a $50,000 grant to start his own company so that he could help his family.

And when he told Barkdull that she could cancel her order later that day and he'd still get credit for the sale, she agreed.

"When I told him I could only buy one, he said, 'Please, please, I'll do 500 pushups," Barkdull said. "He gets on the ground and starts doing pushups. He says, 'This is how bad I need it.'"

So Barkdull handed over $110. Gilchrist handed her two receipts, handwritten on old credit card slips and quickly left.

"He's like, 'See ya,' and he walks off very fast down the road," Barkdull said. " I say, 'OK, something is not right.' That's when I looked it up, and I found everything."

Along with a picture, her online search revealed post after post about MTS Circulation from others who believe they were duped ordering magazines from very convincing salespeople.

They claim it benefited everything from their education to charities to members of the military. But posters say they never received the magazines and could not find any viable contact information for MTS.

One poster specifically mentions Gilchrist. One poster said that a sellers asked for food or a drink and that when he went to get it, the salesman "helped himself to a check" from his checkbook.

"It's embarrassing," Barkdull said.

Like Barkdull, many posters say they unsuccessfully tried to cancel. Barkdull got a message saying her receipt "does not match MTS records." Now, she just hopes sharing the story of how she lost $110 will help keep it from happening to others.

"I look at it as a cheap investment in a lifelong lesson," she said.

Like many others, 5 on Your Side tried unsuccessfully to reach both MTS Circulation and Gilchrist.

Since it is illegal to sell without a permit, police at N.C. State stepped up patrols. They believe Gilchist and his group moved on.

They say the best way to not get caught up in this sort of scheme is to not open the door for unidentified people.