We know what you're thinking: "Holy shit, that sounds like a modern-day slave trade." But actually ...
You know that endless string of mall kiosk guys who hassle you at the intersection between the Orange Julius and Hot Topic? They mostly sell shitty novelty products, electronics, and the idea that you should never make eye contact with a stranger. Those dudes can't be legit, right? We spoke to one of them, a guy we'll call David, and the answer can be summed up as "fuck" and "no." In fact, it's so much shadier than you could even imagine. For example ...
If you've ever been approached by these guys, did you notice that most of them have sexy accents? There's a reason for that. The company that David worked for recruited mostly from Israel, where such openings are as common as burger-flipping in the U.S. "There are recruitment offices in Israel and job placement websites specifically for that. A lot of them."
David got involved when he was 22 and just getting out of the army, he says. "I saw an ad on Gmail inviting [me] to come work in America and make a lot of money in a short amount of time. I had nothing to do and thought I could make use of my US. .passport. ... Most people that come and do that, though, are completely undocumented and are getting in the country on a tourist visa."
David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Is this visit for business or pleasure?"
"What do sketchy, get-rich-quick email schemes count as?"
"I found myself selling video games in New Jersey and Maryland," he says. "The company I worked for had 40 or 50 locations in that area with different products in the malls, and they would come for three or four months for the Christmas season, open a bunch of locations, bring a bunch of undocumented Israelis (some of them don't even know English), house them and everything, make a bunch of money, and disappear."
We know what you're thinking: "Holy shit, that sounds like a modern-day slave trade." But actually ...
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images
Were you picturing a dank basement room full of terrified immigrants crammed in like a slave ship? That couldn't be further from the truth. It's true that employees lived in company housing, but it was more The Real World than Roots, with one or two roommates and even access to company cars. They were also paid very, very well:
"The job is commission only," David says. "You typically would get 25 percent to 30 percent of whatever you sell. If you're good, you can make $5,000 to $6,000 a month. In cash. Tax-free. Some people would make as low as $2,000 a month, but I personally know some people who make $10,000 to $20,000 a month just from yelling to people at the mall and selling them this crap."
So do we need to be foreign nationals, or is there an application process?
And that's not even taking into account all the young women who a) hang out at malls and b) really dig accents.
"Many times, you make a sale and someone likes you and you hook up with them later," David says. "In Vegas, there were a lot of stories of someone meeting a girl and just leaving and coming back."
For a young person with plenty of free time and a loose definition of morality, it's the best gig around, and so it tends to attract exactly the kind of people you'd think it would.
"These guys are not deadbeats," David insists. "A lot of them are the lawyers, engineers, and doctors of the future who just come here temporarily to make fast cash. ... Most of them are doing it just to make money to go travel the world afterwards."
With the insider knowledge to not buy anything from a shitty airport shop.
If you didn't hate these guys before, you have everyone's permission to hate them now.
So what's the point of risking legal trouble by shipping in undocumented immigrants if you're actually going to treat them well? Mostly so that they can't set up their own shop once they realize what a sweet racket they're running. For example ...
Jack Hollingsworth/DigitalVision/Getty Images
There's an easy way to tell if something being sold from a kiosk is a scam: The answer is always "probably," but if it just popped up overnight, it's "even more probably." As David explains, "Mostly, year-round products are less crappy, though it depends on the brand. Some are actually really good. Seasonal products are usually total crap."
Upholding the greatest of all childhood Christmas traditions: getting a stocking full
of poorly made bullshit that will be broken by New Year's Eve.
Most of David's time was spent selling a particular gaming system. "That was 2005, so it was way before Wii and these kind of technologies," David says. "I was selling 'Virtual Games,' which were these little consoles you would connect to your TV and each one was a different game. So you could play Virtual Boxing, for example. You connect the console, put on the special gloves and feet sensors and you can stand in front of the TV, and when you punch the avatar on the screen would punch, and when you kick -- you get the idea. There was also Virtual Tennis and Virtual Ping Pong that you would play with special rackets. I would play the games in the mall as people are passing by while yelling at them, 'Check this out!' and showing them how cool it is. ... After they bought it, I would try to upsell with an AC adapter for only $10 so you don't have to use batteries, etc."
Pictured: the deluxe model.
Well, hey, whoever made that system was a goddamn visionary, right? They should be getting royalties from Nintendo! Except Nintendo figured out the hard part -- how to make it actually work.
"It didn't really matter what cool boxing and kicking motions you did, it would respond just the same if you just gently move the gloves back and forth (the avatar would still go crazy on the screen)," David says. "Oh, and the AC adapter? That's the only way to make it work. If you open the battery compartment, there's nothing there. It's just plastic shaped like a battery compartment that isn't connected to anything."
deluxe fuck you model.
Once you get home and figure that out, tough shit, buddy. On the off-chance that you get lucky and they haven't already disappeared, they'll just laugh in your face while rubbing your money on their nipples.
"The thing about demonstration kiosks is that they make you go 'WOW' the moment you see it, but it's a crappy product and there's no refund. Ever. Under no circumstances would you ever get your money back," David says. Well, there is one way to get a refund, he admits: "If you mention the word 'immigration.'"
By the time people find out the truth about a product, they'll have already moved on to the next thing.
"Video games? No ma'am; we sell totally legit herbal supplements now."
"Those things don't exist anymore; that trend has passed," David says. "Right now it's all about cosmetics. Dead Sea products from Israel (or Texas, depending on the brand), hairstylers, mineral makeup. They are all over. Probably one of each in every mall close to your home."
And, yes, they really do convince people to buy those things. You don't make the kind of money they make without learning to be a really good salesman, i.e. coming up with an astonishing array of tricks to separate non-fools from their money. Such as ...
Given that the products they're pushing are already fraudulent, salesmen are encouraged to go all the way with it, up to and including straight-up lying and performing actual magic tricks to get the sale.
"Whatever they ask, the answer is yes," David says. "Ask me if the Dead Sea scrub helps whatever -- it does. 'My rosacea?' 'These little bumps?' Yes, of course."
"Leprosy? Only if purchased from the 'Platinum' line."
For the ladies in the crowd, has one of these guys ever grabbed you by the arm and started rubbing goo on you (because, yes, even mild assault is not off the table)? That's where the magic tricks come into play.
"There is a systematic lie about this product that is a facial gel," David says. "You start rubbing it in a circle on their arm and you see a whole bunch of dirt and what looks like dead skin cells coming out, and then you take it all off with a cotton ball and show them how dirty it is, and you show them how much nicer the complexion looks compared to the other arm."
Though whether your arm wasn't already cleaner than anything
coming out of the Dead Sea is debatable.
Sounds like a perfectly legitimate demonstration, right? No, it's actually a simple chemistry trick:
"The way it actually works is, do you remember when you were a kid and used to play with glue? That's kind of what it does," David says. It's just the product clumping together, in a way that is totally useless to your dead skin cells. "And then when you compare the complexion, it's just because of the rubbing."
Once this medicine-man show has got you interested, that's when they throw out the largest number they think you'll agree to. If you wanna find out how badly you're being ripped off, just look over the salesman's shoulder when you hand over your debit card.
"The way it used to be is that prices were totally made up, but there is a logic behind it," David explains. "They have minimum prices. ... The POS system that we use is designed for that kind of haggling. In the corner, in small gray letters, is how much above the minimum you are."
The only way to win is to not play, but that's harder than you would think. A lot of the tactics that people think protect them are completely wrong. That's why ...
"People say, 'If you look them in the eye, that's the mistake!' Or, 'When you walk by alone, that's when they get you!'" David says, probably while twirling his mustache and stroking a white cat. "The truth is that it doesn't really matter. We don't [target] people looking or walking alone. ... We just approach people that fit a certain profile for our product and try to get them in. I would approach you just the same if you were with a friend, not making eye contact, or even if you're on the phone. The truth is that you feel too uncomfortable saying no when you've made eye contact, or when you don't have a good enough excuse to refuse."
Apparently, "I don't need or want this product" isn't good enough.
It turns out that the secret to making a lot of money peddling worthless crap is not just to be impressively rude but to prey on decent people's desire not to be.
"Notice how we never ask you if you would come see a demonstration," David says. "That'll make it too easy to say no. We would more likely say something that'll be harder to refuse like, 'Excuse me, can I ask you something real quick?' Or, 'Here, take this free X.' And once you've stopped, you'll feel obligated to continue talking to us."
At that point, they switch tactics, bullying you into thinking that any polite excuse you give not to buy something isn't good enough until you either give in or break down and punch them in the taint.
The secrets to a good negotiator are confidence, eye contact,
and uppercutting through the scrotum, not into it.
David says: "As a customer, you don't wanna be a dick, and we take advantage of the fact that you don't want to be a dick. ... When it's time to buy, you would convince yourself why it's a good purchase because you'll feel uncomfortable walking away. ... We make a lot of money off of that."
But there is hope: "There is a sentence that, if you say, there is no rebuttal for," David says. "When I first heard it, I just stood there completely dumbfounded and didn't know what to say. My colleague said that if everyone knew to say it, we would all be out of business." Those magic words are: "'I love it; I'm already sold; my husband is coming to buy it for me next week."
"And he totally intends to buy the AC adapter, too!"
David says: "That means that I can't convince you because you're already convinced. I can't get any money from you right now because you've already scheduled your purchase and it's not today."
There you have it -- everyone head down to your local mall and start messing with the immigrants.
Oh, hey, Manna has a Twitter, apparently.
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