OTTAWA — Fears created by social media postings have prompted police in both Streator and Ottawa to assure residents that a door-to-door sales program in both communities is legitimate.
Southwestern Advantage of Nashville, Tenn., has 2,000 American and foreign exchange students selling learning material across the country. There are several students working in Ottawa, though a decision to move to Streator may be made before the summer is out, said Southwestern spokesman Trey Campbell.
Several postings on Facebook expressing concern about foreign students allegedly asking information about neighborhood children prompted the company and police in both cities to issue statements about the company’s legitimacy.
“This sort of thing can cause panic and is dangerous,” said Campbell. “When someone puts something on Facebook they can put whatever they want and there is no ramification. But there are ramifications to the students involved.”
Campbell said he has talked with the police about the situation.
Streator officials have not had an application for Southwestern to operate in the city, though police joined their counterpart in Ottawa in assuring the public the company is legitimate.
Ottawa Police Capt. Dave Gualandri and Campbell said the problem may have surfaced when two Estonian salespersons asked about other children in the area, a sales tactic to generate more leads.
“If someone is posting that the international students in your area are child abductors or human traffickers, that puts someone at risk,” said Campbell. “It creates a panic and it only takes one person.”
The students, who live with host families while they are in town, are part of a work-study program to learn about American entrepreneurship, he said.