Consumer Alert: Telemarketing scam robs business of millions
By Sarah Te Slaa, Multimedia Producer/ Anchor - email
A telemarketing scam robs business owners of millions of dollars.
It sounded like a legitimate offer, debt collection services offered for a reasonable fee, but it was a scheme that made one man rich while driving hundreds of others into financial ruin.
"When you're my age, you think you are reasonably street savvy, the answer to that is, no I wasn't," says Colby Stafford, a fraud victim.
Stafford learned a hard lesson about trust when his business lost $10,000 dollars in a telemarketing scam.
"At that point in time I was growing so fast, which is a good thing, but you're spending all your cash," says Stafford.
So, Stafford took out a $50,000 loan to have more money readily available, but that loan left him vulnerable to telemarketers calling with a pitch.
"The telemarketers cold-called prospective clients and promised, for a fee, they would collect their business debts," says Camille Hammonds, a U.S. Postal Inspector.
The owner of the debt collection agency was Neil Madison who used some strong arm tactics.
"He threatened to take them into involuntary bankruptcy, to take away their homes their vehicles, and to see that they were criminally charged with fraud," says Hammonds.
Madison was ruthless in getting the money, but instead of returning it to business owners as promised, he kept it all for himself.
"The funds were used to buy a yacht, numerous luxury vehicles, a house in Laguna Beach, California, even occasional prostitutes for top employees," says Hammonds.
As part of his scheme, Madison created promotional flyers, including something called a Tri-Con Report, which supposedly showed a debtor's ability to pay.
"In reality, the report was totally bogus and made up," says Hammonds. "The Tri-Con Report was an inside joke known to the employees as 'we will try to con the client'."
For a while the con was successful. Stafford and more than 600 other victims lost more than $6 million.
Those victims included business owners who thought they had paid off their debts to other companies and others who thought the money they were owed had been collected.
"There were numerous small mom and pop American businesses who were forced out of business," says Hammonds.
Eventually, Madison was caught and sentenced to eight years in prison, but Stafford believes Madison could have made his money without cheating other people.
"If you work that hard at something, my God, I pay a lot of money to people who work hard for me. Why don't you come work for me? You're working so hard to con people, and by the way, if you come and work for me you don't have to go to jail," says Stafford.
Postal inspectors say always carefully check out every company you do business with. Your state attorney general's office or the Better Business Bureau are good references for finding information about all companies.
Persons with disabilities who need assistance with issues relating to the content of this station's public inspection file should contact Administrative Assistant Kathy Clayton at (712) 239-4100 x209. Questions or concerns relating to the accessibility of the FCC's online public file system should be directed to the FCC at 888-225-5322, at 888-835-5322 (TTY) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.