June 20, 2024
Real consumers, who fell for the pitch, tell their stories and a former scammer gives an insider account of how these operations use high-pressure tactics and how consumers can protect themselves.

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Partial Transcript:
Jim Vitale:
I think the catalyst is money. My best month, I made 50 thousand.

Narrator:
In 2005 Jim Vitale was convicted for his role in a business opportunity scam.

Jim Vitale:
There was ridiculous money being made. You could take down 20 million dollars in 8 months.

Narrator:
He sold the American dream – the dream of being your own boss

Jim Vitale:
It’s basically learning how to listen and manipulate people, once you understand the dynamics of what you’re trying to do, which is separate them from their money, that’s it.

Eileen Harrington:
Business opportunity fraud occurs when someone tells you that they will give you what you need to successfully operate a profitable business, and when they do that in a way that guarantees and ensures your success.

Narrator:
Every year, thousands of people lose millions of their hard earned dollars to con artists selling fraudulent business opportunities.

Eileen Harrington:
The telltale signs of business opportunity fraud are “You can earn a lot of money. I will show you how to do it. And you can count on being successful.”

Narrator:
It all starts with an ad – full of promises…

Jim Vitale:
Things like “stay at home, no real legwork required, turn-key business opportunity,” things that get people’s attention. And then they call in.

Narrator:
Sometimes, the voices behind these claims are celebrities…

Celebrity 1 (Adam West):
Hi folks, I’m Adam West. Oh, I wish I’d had one of these in the old cave! It’s called EZ Link.

Celebrity 2:
And every feature could earn money for you!

Celebrity 3:
For a piece of tomorrow, call now.

Eileen Harrington:
When somebody responds to one of their advertisements, there’s a very careful process to lure them in.

Jim Vitale:
“Hey! How are you, Jim? First thing I want you to do is grab a pen; I want you to write my name down.” Now I have control. You’re—I’m already telling you what to do. I give you my name, my phone number, I tell you a little bit about myself. And then I set an appointment. And I also give you references.

Narrator:
Craig D’Angelo is from upstate New York. A TV ad said he could get in on the ground floor of new high tech revolution – by owning and operating internet kiosks.

Craig D’Angelo:
My main goal for getting into—for buying—the machines wasn’t so that I could have a business and retire and get rich. I was just looking for something to supplement things and really kind of make it easier for my wife and kids. I was a police officer at the time, and I was very cynical. I’d dealt with people that got scammed before, so, you know, I was really looking for the warning signs.

Narrator:
It sounded simple and lucrative – a plan that couldn’t miss.

Craig D’Angelo:
You got to remember, this is before Wi-Fi, and before, you know, Twitter and all them, and before these Blackberries could do everything. So it was really awesome to have a terminal that you could walk up and throw a buck or two in and check your e-mail, or get money out of, or pay a bill.

Narrator:
He called the Better Business Bureau; there were no complaints against the Easy Link company. Then he sat down with his wife and father to discuss the investment.

Craig D’Angelo:
I bought two machines. I ended up paying like 12,500 a piece for them, so 25,000 dollars. Which is a lot of money. And, I didn’t have that money laying around. I took a second mortgage on my house to do this.

Eileen Harrington:
If somebody has figured out a foolproof way to earn a lot of money, why are they possibly going to tell you how to do that rather than doing that for themselves all over the place? So be very skeptical.

Craig D’Angelo:
The warning sign came right when it was kind of too late, and I think the jerk’s name was Vitale. He said, “Thanks a lot, Craig, we’re going to make a lot of money together. And I said, “Oh man, I think I’m in for a ride.”

Eileen Harrington:
The first thing that anybody interested in investing should do is ask for the written disclosure document. It should list all of the people who have purchased the business opportunity. If there are any earnings representations being made, there is a separate earnings claims document. If they won’t give you that, just don’t go near it.

Narrator:
Like Craig, Debora Eaton thought she’d found a solid business opportunity.

Debora Eaton:
I’ve got right here a cashier’s check for 8,500 that I mailed to them.

Narrator:
The company, Ameripos, repeatedly called Deborah over six months.

Debora Eaton:
He had given me, like, four people to call to give me references that had been in the business for the last two years.

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