NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The Federal Trade Commission has announced judgments in its case against Business Recovery Services, LLC and its owner, Brian Hessler, both accused of selling fake recovery kits to the victims of previous scams and promising to help get their money back.
According to FTC Senior Litigator Harold Kirtz, through his company, Hessler tracked down the victims of unrelated work from home and business opportunity schemes, and promised to help them get their money back.
"They told people that they had a do it yourself kit for anywhere between $100 and $500 depending on what was in the kit," Kirtz said. "It really only had a few sample letters that [the victims] could write to the Better Business Bureau or the Attorney General's office. And they told people buying this kit that they could contact folks that could get their money back for them, and that wasn't the case."
Entities like the Better Business Bureau or an Attorney General's office will only help get an investigation started. Consumers can write in complaint letters, but it's by no means a do-it-yourself solution to recover stolen money.
According to Kirtz, scam artists like Hessler typically do include some sort of minimal products in an attempt to avoid law enforcement. By sending consumers something in exchange for their money, Hessler could claim that any complaints were a simple case of customer dissatisfaction rather than actual lawbreaking. Caveat emptor, as it were.
"It gives them the opportunity to make an argument to authorities, particularly the Better Business Bureau and state authorities, that, 'oh we're sending this out to consumers and it's not our fault that the consumer isn't getting their money back because we sent them what we told them we'd sent them,'" Kirtz said. "If they didn't send anything, then the criminal authorities would have a better case to make that it's just outright theft."
In fact, in plans like this the operator will often make sure to also include notoriously confusing fine print explaining what consumers will actually receive in order to provide yet another defense to claims of fraud.
Hessler targeted, in part, victims of previous scams that he himself had helped to run. According to the FTC, he had taken part in previous business opportunity schemes and may have kept customer lists from those operations. Effectively this allowed Hessler to target the same people twice, first by stealing their money and then selling kits to help find whoever had stolen their money.
"This scheme rubbed salt in the wound of people who had already been victimized, targeting them and defrauding them all over again," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
The judgment against Hessler bans him from selling recovery kit again, or from making any kind of misrepresentations about products or services. This order, known as an injunction, will allow the FTC to pursue criminal penalties for contempt of court if Hessler is caught operating similar schemes again. Although both Hessler and Business Recovery Services received judgments in excess of $5 million, according to Kirtz neither had much money to recover.
Overall, the best protection against operations like this is a healthy sense of skepticism.
"There's the old adage," Kirtz said. "If it sounds too good to be true then it's probably not true. We just want people to be extra cautious, especially if they get a cold call from someone saying, 'we can help you out, all you have to do is give us a couple hundred dollars.' I've never seen any of those pan out."
--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.