My wife just retired, and I have turned 65, which makes us likely marks for professional scammers. Twice this year we have gone to presentations by people who offered to make our lives wealthier, happier and more rewarding. We’re still waiting.
The first was a phone call inviting us to a sales pitch for new and improved attic fans and insulation. This drew my interest because the temperature in my attic office soars on summer afternoons and doesn’t cool off until long after the sun goes down.
In my Billings Outpost days, Ed Kemmick once asked me how I could stand working up here.
“We have a clothing-optional office,” I said.
Besides wanting to restore common decency, we also were attracted to the free dinner at the Rib & Chop House that accompanied the pitch. The dinner was excellent, as it turned out, and the room was filled with friendly people about our age.
But the presentation droned on and on, despite visually spectacular displays of materials bursting into flame when they were protected by ordinary insulation instead of the new, improved stuff. And the presenter wanted to follow up with an in-home inspection and sales pitch.
We were OK with that, still hoping for an attic fan. But that turned out to be impractical, so he offered instead a package of insulation and fans that was considerably more expensive than just pulling off my pants.
We had to decide right away because the installation crew was only going to be in town for another day. He showed us a rave review of his company’s work from a Bozeman customer, then stepped out onto the porch to give us a moment to decide.
That was too much for me. I wasn’t going to pay somebody I knew nothing about to install a product about which I knew only what he had told me. We sent him on his way.
I’m not saying this was a scam, but when we contacted the Bozeman customer who had given the rave review, his enthusiasm was far less pronounced. He said he must have written that review before he realized that the insulation had been improperly installed, and he had to call back the crew for another five hours of work. He was still waiting to see if that expensive insulation would pay for itself.
Last week, the phone rang again. A marketing representative for a travel company that was expanding into Montana was offering free Caribbean cruises or condo stays at major resorts to people who came to hear a 90-minute presentation.
That sounded too good to be true. As a Texas county attorney once put it, “If it doesn’t look right, and it doesn’t sound right, and it doesn’t smell right, it’s probably not right.”
Still, I am old, and my mind is growing weak. I spent practically the whole weekend trying to remember the name of the fictional rock band Rob Reiner memorialized in a classic mockumentary. Besides, I figured, I might at least get a column out of it.
So we signed up. In the meantime, I did a bit of online research about the company, Ultimate Travel. I found several companies by that name, including one based in Australia, one in the United Kingdom and a mom-and-pop travel agency in Texas.
None of those seemed likely to be the company that had contacted us, but others seemed to fit the bill perfectly. The Consumer Affairs and Better Business Bureau websites and a few online videos were filled with warnings about these companies, many of them owned by the same people operating under different company names. They made similar offers to the one we heard: 90-minute presentations in exchange for free trips.
Some of the complaints were by people who said they fell for high-pressure sales tactics and spent thousands of dollars for vacation club memberships that saved them no money. And their free trips were blocked by restrictions so onerous that they were almost impossible to use. Calls weren’t returned, phone lines went dead, or expensive deposits were required up front.
Attorneys general in at least eight states have filed lawsuits against similar companies, and some proprietors have been given prison sentences.
When a different marketing representative called the next day to confirm our appointment, he reminded us to bring a major credit card and photo ID. I described my online research, and he assured us that Ultimate Travel was on the up and up.
Come on, he said, you’ll enjoy it. He also told me the company was based in Richardson, Texas, but I have not been able to locate a company by that name in that town.
We showed up at the hotel at the appointed time on Saturday. But maybe I had asked too many questions. Nobody was there to meet us, and the clerk at the counter said he didn’t show the company was scheduled to be there that day. Just to be sure, we went to the room the company had booked, but the door was locked. We hung around for a few minutes, in case clocks were off, but nobody showed.
I called the marketing rep, but he was unavailable and has not returned my call.
Again, I’m not saying this was a scam. I’m just saying that if you get a similar call, proceed with caution. You might wind up out a lot of money, or at least wasting a good chunk of a day.
I at least got that column, and perhaps some assurance that my mental faculties remain intact.
Spinal Tap. The band’s name was Spinal Tap.