Monday, August 29, 2005

Our Very Own Scam

Not long ago, Mary Beth posted a blog on Web sites & other resources that exist as forums for people to report scams. Good thing I knew about some of them, because recently we've had our very own scam to contend with.

Last March, I received a faxed invoice from ProMedia Resources, a company reputedly based in New Jersey. Soon after, a rep from the company called as a follow-up. He claimed that, five years earlier, we entered into an agreement to have our library contact information included on a CD-ROM directory of theirs titled the "American Business Resource Guide". The five years, he said, were up, and we owed them $400.

This smelled fishy, as we don't enter into multi-year agreements as a matter of practicality. Nor are we interested in marketing our private services to the general public - we exist solely to serve the New York SBDC staff.

I do research for a living. A preliminary investigation of mine found that no one affiliated with the Research Network in the past five years remembered entering into such an agreement. No paperwork exists showing a business relationship. A canceled check that the company supposedly had as proof of a down payment didn't pan out when I asked the rep for the check number.

In continuing my research, I found it suspicious that a media company, in these modern times, could have such a low profile on Google - the company name doesn't appear much. The sales rep called again. In our conversation, he revealed that the company inherited the account from another firm, called New Line Publishing.

This firm, sadly, has *plenty* of history on the Web. There are postings on several Web sites that tell stories similar to what I was experiencing, and to beware. When the rep called again, I told him that unless he could prove a business relationship in writing, then I felt no obligation to pay the debt. He wasn't happy with that, and said a supervisor would soon be in touch.

A day later, I got a voice mail from that supervisor. In our office, we get an e-mail summary of the particulars behind any voice mail, including the phone number of origin. This call, I found, originated within the 514 area code, somewhere in Canada.

Coincidentally, at this time I read an article in a February issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education that discussed how libraries were increasingly being targeted by con artists in a manner similar to what was happening here. Among other things, it said that such hustlers frequently operate out of Canada, as their telemarketing fraud laws were less punitive than those here in the states.

All of this convinced me that we were being had. Instead of ignoring it (a tactic that never works), I spoke at length with an attorney at the Research Foundation Counsel's Office here in Albany. I also spoke at length with an investigator within the New Jersey Attorney General's Office. He soon passed me to another investigator, within the Union County Prosecutor's Office. Both have since told me that if ProMedia tries to contact me again, then simply forward them to either of these offices.

In the mean time, we've received seven invoices from this "company" since June. Last Friday, while I was on a day off, a rep called here again - the first phone communication since June. I've not spoken with them (I've spent enough time on this already). I thought they were gone, but I was mistaken.

The lessons I've learned - and ones that I'd recommend to any of your clients who feel like they're being scammed - are these: 1) Never assume that ignoring the problem will make it go away; 2) Even though it's only $400, it's our library's integrity that I'm protecting by pursuing this so diligently; and 3) The authorities are always interested in consumer fraud. Ours is likely one case among many, but, by speaking out, that's one more voice to bring these people down.

It's still evolving here. I'll keep you posted on how it turns out.


Kelly said...

We just got scammed by ProMedia as well. We're a small educational publisher and we realized what was going on when we couldn't find a paper trail. Unfortunately, we already paid for one disk, but thank goodness it was only that one!

Darrin Conroy said...

Yikes! That's unfortunate. I hope that they're not still invoicing you. I can't believe that they're still out there, given that their name likely appears on a lot more websites than it did in 2005. I'm still not sure what I did that made them stop faxing & calling - maybe me telling them point blank that we weren't paying them, and that we'd get attorneys involved if they continued. That might help.