Business owners beware of "business program" scams

With two of these solicitations within a week of each other, it seems now is the time of year that small business owners like myself are being targeted with this "business program" scam.

The phone calls I received went like this: The caller is a "producer" for a generic-sounding business television show (or so they make it seem) with a celebrity host. They're looking for "guests" to be on a show about [insert your industry], and wonder if you'd be interested in participating.

I call this stuff a scam for several reasons. The "show" isn't really a show at all. It's really just a commercial that ranges in length from three to ten minutes. You're told that the "show" is used as filler material in between the major programming at cable networks, and so they get lots of viewers. In my world, filler material is what's commonly known as commercials.

You learn about all the fancy production that will be done to make your "show" fabulous, and all the millions of viewers who will see it. Of course, such things are worth far more than any advertising you could buy. This is where you get suspicious because you realize they're going to ask for money. And sure enough... The "producer" asks for a fee of $10,000 to $20,000 to cover "production costs," and this fee is (of course) quite a bargain for you! Want to sign up?

These programs are nothing more than cleverly disguised, expensive advertising. If you want advertising, pay for advertising. You'll get control over the process and you'll get to decide when and where your commercial airs. This type of stuff is what's sometimes called "pay to play." These companies know that entrepreneurs are eager to get publicity for their products and services, and this "opportunity" sounds glamorous and worthwhile.

If you get one of these calls, be very skeptical. Do an internet search for the company and see what comes up. The first call I received was from Thad Peters at Vision Media, promoting "The Business Report" with Hugh Downs. Little information came up with a Google search for "Business Report," but if you search for "Vision Media," you get a lot more information. I've even blogged about their scam in the past, and the fact that they sued a small business owner who called their offer a scam after researching the company.

The latest call that I received was from "Economic Report" with Greg Gumbel, and a quick search turned up a consumer complaint that the shows don't ever air. Who knows how reliable this report is, but a quick Google search turned up very few companies that have actually appeared on television with this "program." At $10,000 to $20,000, you shouldn't take any chances with this type of thing.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud
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