Consumer Protection Division identifies 14 Iowans who lost $1,800 to nearly $80,000
DES MOINES – Ten associates of a sophisticated Arizona-based business opportunity scheme that Attorney General Tom Miller alleges is fraudulent and illegal have refunded nearly $186,000 to more than a dozen Iowans through an agreement with Miller’s office.
The associates also agreed to cease any future marketing or soliciting to Iowans, and pay a $50,000 penalty to the state’s consumer education and litigation fund.
The Consumer Protection Division opened an investigation late last year after the family of an elderly eastern Iowa woman filed a complaint after discovering the woman had agreed to pay for an “at-home business opportunity.” The Consumer Protection Division alleges a network of people and sham companies involved in the scheme bilked the woman out of $25,000. The division obtained refunds on the victim’s behalf through several banks.
The investigation determined the network, led by Gloria Sue Perez, 63, of Phoenix, Arizona, involves at least ten people—all of whom use aliases—and several shell limited liability (LLC) companies registered across the country.
The Consumer Protection Division located a total of 14 victims in 13 counties who each lost from $1,800 to nearly $80,000.
Business Opportunity Sales Calls to Iowans
According to the investigation, in Iowa, telephone solicitors involved in the scheme targeted victims, who are often older Iowans. The Iowa victims had previously responded to unrelated phone solicitations or scams, and associates involved in this scheme likely purchased names of potential targets from another solicitor.
The solicitor pitching the business opportunity often promised “substantial” and “guaranteed” income to help sell the business proposal. The various “at-home business opportunity” pitches to Iowans included creating a website, processing credit cards, and estate planning. Targets of the scheme often paid thousands up front, and another associate of the scheme sometimes followed-up to sell the targeted person what they represented as “established” customer accounts to generate additional income.
Miller alleges solicitors made fraudulent sales claims, charged for nonexistent goods and services, created false identities and sham businesses to further the scheme, falsified business documents, created accounts and businesses in the names of the consumers they targeted, and incurred substantial debts on several Iowa consumers’ behalf.
Individuals and Companies Involved in Agreement
The investigation identified 11 people involved in the scheme, all of whom have signed onto an agreement, called an assurance of voluntary compliance, with the Consumer Protection Division:
- Gloria Sue Perez, Phoenix, Arizona
- Joshua Samuel Perez, Tolleson, Arizona
- Christopher A. Disimone a/k/a Christopher A. Garcia, Scottsdale, Arizona
- Harvey R. Ingersoll, Camarillo, California
- Adele R. Mage a/k/a Adele R. Garcia and a/k/a Adelle Garcia, Peoria, Arizona
- Judy Alexander a/k/a Judy Jones, Glendale, Arizona
- Brooke Alexander, Peoria, Arizona
- John Patrick Dominick a/k/a John Austin, Phoenix, Arizona
- Christopher Lee Hall, Peoria, Arizona
- Sage F. Gonzales, Mesa, Arizona
- Howard A. Hamburger, Lawndale, California
The investigation identified nine company names directly involved in the scheme, all of which are also part of the agreement:
- Innovative Business Set Up LLC, Colorado (also registered as trade name in Arizona)
- All Pay Financial, Arizona
- Kreative Business Group LLC, Michigan
- Kuztum Blogging, Arizona
- Magers Blogging, Arizona
- Elite Business Strategies, Arizona
- Elite Consulting LLC, Wyoming
- Fortune 500 Consulting Group Inc., Arizona
- Great Western Tax and Accounting LLC, Wyoming
As part of the agreement, the individuals and companies do not admit to violating Iowa law.
Last week, the individuals and companies named in the agreement completed $235,827 in payments to affected consumers and the state.
Business Opportunity Advice from the Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to be wary of any business “opportunity” that seems too good to be true–especially when you have to pay fees up-front. If you’re thinking about pursuing a so-called opportunity, first do some research.
The FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule has safeguards in place to make sure you have the information you need to tell whether a work-at-home opportunity is a risky business. Under the rule, sellers have to give you a one-page disclosure document that offers key pieces of information about the opportunity. Use the information in the disclosure document to fact-check what the seller tells you.
In addition to reviewing the disclosure document, the FTC recommends you ask some important questions:
- What tasks will I have to perform? Are any other steps involved?
- Will I be paid a salary, or will I be paid on commission?
- What is the basis for your claims about my likely earnings? Do you survey everyone who purchased the program? What documents can you show me to prove your claims are true before I give you any money? Note: If a seller makes a claim about how much money a person can earn, the seller also has to give you an earnings claim statement with more specifics.
- Who will pay me?
- When will I get my first paycheck?
- What is the total cost of this work-at-home program, including supplies, equipment, and membership fees? What will I get for my money?
The FTC also recommends you to search the company or promoter’s name through a search engine with the words “complaint,” “reviews,” or “scam.” You can also search the Better Business Bureau’s website for complaints. But remember that just because there aren’t complaints doesn’t mean the company is legitimate. Dishonest companies sometimes settle complaints and change their names or move to avoid detection.
Iowa consumers with questions or complaints can contact the Consumer Protection Division:
- Website: www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov
- Phone: 515-281-5926 or toll-free at 888-777-4590 (in-state but outside of the Des Moines metro area)
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org