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Teen Tanning Sting Questioned

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

A New Jersey tanning business owner reported in July 2011 that an undercover investigator who phoned her salon alleging to be a 16-year-old prospective customer badgered her into attempting to make false statements about tanning — a charge that now appears to be leveled at an investigative report issued Feb. 1 by four U.S. Congress members and which could make the report’s findings fraudulent.

Smart Tan member Courtney Gilmartin, owner of International Tan in Point Pleasant, NJ, took a call July 21, 2011 from a woman who alleged she was 16, was new to the area and wanted to tan even though her parents would not allow it. Gilmartin knew the call was bogus and that it originated from a Washington, D.C., phone number and reported the suspicious call to Smart Tan, which ran a story on SmartTan.com July 29, 2011.

Here is that story in the SmartTan.com archive.

After the story ran, Smart Tan members nationwide reported receiving suspicious calls from the same Washington, D.C., phone number. Reports to Smart Tan indicated the callers did not follow a set script, asked completely different questions to different salons and typically re-directed questions attempting to get positive answers — charges that, if connected to the report issued by four Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee this week, could constitute academic fraud.

The report issued Tuesday alleged that indoor tanning facility operators mislead clients about the risks and benefits of UV exposure and indoor tanning — calling for regulators to enact an under-18 ban on indoor tanning. Smart Tan reported Wednesday that the report itself contained factually inaccurate information. Here is the link to that story.

To produce the report, congressional staff made phone calls to 300 tanning salons nationwide alleging on the phone that they were 16-year-old women who wanted to tan. Callers did not actually visit a tanning salon. The sample group was not random, nor did the survey appear to follow any uniform script, which is standard practice for such a survey. (See standards for this type of market research as published by the Marketing Research Association:).

Based on the reports to Smart Tan in July 2011 it is clear no script was followed and appears that investigators randomly re-directed questions to mine for positive answers, which would be fraudulent.

“I knew from her voice she was not 16,” Gilmartin told Smart Tan in July. “But I let her go on.” Gilmartin read her the New Jersey regulations, which require a tanner aged 14-18 to bring a parent to the salon with them prior to tanning. “She was definitely trying to get me to say something,” Gilmartin said.

Despite clearly being told she couldn’t tan without a parent’s permission, the caller kept re-structuring the question to try to get Gilmartin to re-phrase her answer. “She went on to say, ok, I have really fair skin, so am I still allowed to go tanning?” Gilmartin said in the July interview. “I said I’d have to see you in person. That we’d need to learn your skin type and see if you are skin type I.”

That’s when Gilmartin knew she was definitely being toyed with. “And then after that she said, ‘I have acne and would tanning help. It was just so by book. No 16-year-old would ask questions that way.”

So Gilmartin decided to end the charade. “I asked her, ‘So you’re 16. What’s your date of birth?’ It was silent for a second and she fumbled around and I heard someone in the background, and then she hung up. I could tell she was in her 20s.”

Gilmartin called the 202-area-code number back. A man answered and alleged he was a New Jersey-based cleaning business. When pressed for details about the call she received, the man hung up.

Smart Tan believes the survey questions as asked to Gilmartin and others completely destroy the credibility of the Report issued Tuesday. “It does not appear the bogus caller followed a standard script — which would be key to uniformity in this kind of study and is standard procedure in collecting survey data,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “Because it appears this survey was not done not in a random fashion, but as a fishing expedition designed to support an agenda, they data collected from this project should be dismissed and those involved could actually be liable for legal or other disciplinary action.”


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