Don't Buy Candy From … Children

The sales are often scams; the kids are underpaid and exploited.

ByABC News
June 20, 2008, 2:21 PM

June 23, 2008 — -- It's summer, and that means that you will probably be approached by some "candy kids" any day now. You see them downtown, on the subway, at your own front door in the suburbs.

They sell chocolate for a cause or so they say. These kids often claim they're peddling candy so they won't have to peddle drugs. Sound familiar?

Click Here to Ask Elisabeth Your Consumer Questions About This Topic or Any Other Consumer Issue

About 50,000 children nationwide are involved. They're often underprivileged and underage. Make no mistake: These are not your neighbor's kids selling something to support their soccer team or Girl Scout troop. These children are often poor, and they're bused in to sell to you. The U.S. Department of Labor says it's being exploited by greedy adults.

They sell sweets, but bite in deep enough and you will taste the truth. That's what I learned when I spent a summer on the streets following candy kids. One boy told me he was selling candy for the Just Say No program at his school. When I called his school, I learned there was no such program. A girl said she was selling boxed candy for her basketball team. That was a lie. A group of kids said they were with a nonprofit organization founded to keep kids off the street. The group didn't exist.

But the kids aren't the ones at fault. Crooked adults called candy crew leaders run these candy rings. The two crew leaders I investigated both had criminal records. One man had been arrested for battery, possession of heroin and receiving stolen property. The other had spent two years in prison for firearms violations and also had convictions for cruelty to animals, drug dealing and shoplifting. Crew leaders recruit candy kids near schools, in public housing complexes even homeless shelters. Parents go along with it because they don't care or don't know better.

The crew leaders tell the kids what to say and sometimes give them laminated identification cards to show customers. They pick the kids up by van early in the morning, and drop them off in malls or neighborhoods far from home. The van returns for the kids after they've worked a 12-hour day. Often the children go without food, water or a bathroom break during their shift. There's no supervision and authorities are aware of cases in which candy kids were mugged or raped while working.