For this scam artist, it's try, try again

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
November 2, 2003

Several years ago, a friend and I were discussing whatever scandal or fraud topped that day's business news. Someone had spent considerable time and energy executing a plot to separate someone else from their money, without providing anything in return except heartache and an empty bank account. My wise friend, a successful entrepreneur, observed, "if someone's goal is to make a lot of money, it's pretty easy. And you can do it honestly, if you just take your time and don't try to take shortcuts. It's the shortcuts that get people in trouble."

A recent News Sentinel feature about business people who had been the victims of theft from within their own companies reminded me of his advice. I thought about it again this week when our office received a call from someone from a business index publication. This guy was trying to separate us from somebody trying to take a shortcut into my wallet. The incredible thing is that this company is attempting its scam on us again, even though they've been trying the same scam on us for two years.

Here's how it works. Out of the blue, two years ago we received an invoice for $350 for a copy of some business directory. (These people are not affiliated with the Real Yellow Pages, Yellow Book or any other legitimate business with which I am familiar.) We called and wrote the folks informing them that we never ordered, received or asked for a copy of the directory. They insisted we did, and they had a telephone recording to prove it. We offered to pay the bill, if they would only provide evidence of that recording. The recording was never produced.

I wonder how many people just pay the invoice without question?

Then we started receiving nasty letters and phone calls from a collection agency. Over this $350 "debt." We encouraged the collection agency to have their attorney contact us and provide evidence that we owed them any money. Back and forth we went.

Last week they called again. Not to collect the 'debt,' but to verify our information for publication in the new directory. Apparently their scam and collection departments don't speak to each other. The caller informed our receptionist that we had subscribed to this service before and that D. Moon had authorized it. (I know D. Moon and he never authorizes anything.) On and on and on it went. He became angry when our receptionist shared our history with his company and suggested he try the pitch on someone else.

There are plenty of lessons in this story. We all know there are hucksters willing to shortcut their way into other people's pockets. That's not news. What shocks me most is that these types of scams must work on a percentage of people. If not, these folks wouldn't keep doing it.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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