Guest Author - Consuelo Herrera, CAMS, CFE
Mary was discouraged because her quest for a job had been unfruitful. Overwhelmed by her needs and wanting to earn money to bring her bills current, she believed in the promises made by marketers of a work-at-home who led others to believe they could earn $500 or more per week processing medical bills and would receive training and access to customers.
Courts documents proved that material facts were intentionally misrepresented. The promises of making quick money usually do not have any reasonable bases.
A dramatic case happened when customers complained to the perpetrators and their co-conspirators about low transaction levels and unprofitable locations for a business that was expected to provide a great return on the investment. The perpetrators kept seeking new customers and concealed this fact from them. Potential new customers were given with the names and phone numbers of "references," or supposedly satisfied existing customers. In anticipation of any verification, employees and friends of the firm running a fraudulent business opportunity, pretended to be customers of the perpetratorsí business during these reference calls.
Another scheme related to business opportunities refers to a group of companies that made numerous false statements to potential purchasers of the business opportunities. Among the misrepresentations are:
1. That purchasers would likely earn substantial profits;
2. That prior purchasers of the business opportunities were earning substantial profits;
3. That purchasers would sell a guaranteed minimum amount of merchandise, such as greeting cards and beverages;
4. That the business opportunity worked with locators familiar with the potential purchaserís area who would secure or had already secured high-traffic locations for the potential purchaserís merchandise stands.
5. Potential purchasers also were falsely told that the profits of the companies were based in part on the profits of the business opportunity purchasers, thus creating the false impression that the companies had a stake in the purchasersí success.
6. In addition, potential purchasers were falsely told that the companies were established years earlier, had a significant number of distributors across the country, and had a track record of success.
7. Potential purchasers also were told that they would receive their merchandise racks, merchandise and locations promptly, even though many purchasers received nothing at all.
8. Potential purchasers were referred to references who told false tales of their success as business opportunity owners.
Those schemes are called crimes of persuasion. The Federal Trade Commission calls it Get-rich-quickly scams. The FTC explained that a company made bogus claims through DVDs, brochures and national infomercials about the ability to raise cash fast. A good approach is never pay money up front.
Avoid being victimized by being aware of red flags or fraud indicators. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Do your homework or seek help from a forensic accountant who will give you insights on whether a specific deal is legitimate.
A great campaign of fraud awareness is available at www.fraud.org. The following are their suggestions:
o Donít believe claims that you can make money with little or no effort. It takes hard work to run your own business, and no one can guarantee how much profit youíll make.
o Be cautious about emails offering business opportunities. Many unsolicited emails are fraudulent.
o Get information in writing before you decide. The Federal Trade Commissionís (FTC) Franchise Rule requires franchise and business opportunity sellers to give you detailed written information, called the ďdisclosure document,Ē at least 10 days before you pay any money or agree to purchase. There are some exceptions. If the company claims to be exempt from the Rule, call the FTC toll-free at 877-382-4357 to check.
o Talk to current owners. The written information that sellers must provide includes the names, addresses, and phone numbers of people who have already purchased the franchise or business opportunity. Ask them if their experiences matched what the company promised.
o Investigate earnings claims. If the company makes any claims about how much you are likely to make, it must give you written information about the number and percentages of owners who have actually made those profits.
o Do some research. Check at your local library or bookstores for publications about how to run a business. For free brochures about franchises and business opportunities from the FTC, call the toll-free number above or go to www.ftc.gov.
o Donít be pressured. Demands that you act immediately are danger signs of fraud.
o Get everything in writing. The contract you are asked to sign should include all the terms of the deal and the promises that were made.
o Get professional advice. Going into business yourself is a major undertaking, even if the company offers to help. Review the contract with an attorney, and ask an accountant to look over the finances. Paying for professional advice now could save you from big losses later.
Stay away from those who seek your money. Do your own research and ask others for input within your social network. Fraud indicators will prevent you for pursuing a fraudulent scheme.