Thursday, July 1, 2010

When is a scam not a scam?

I sit one room away from our departmental fax machine, and I was amused when we received a fax from Presidential Who's Who that began as follows:

Dear Company Owner,

It is my pleasure to inform you that on June 7, 2010 your information was reviewed and accepted for inclusion in the 2011 edition.

As I commented on FriendFeed, I was impressed by the depth of said review.

When Kenton Smith mentioned receiving repeated emails from Presidential Who's Who, I began checking them out. Their website,, begins its sales pitch as follows:

This could be the discovery that propels your career to a level that exceeds your wildest dreams! Presidential Who’s Who members commonly enjoy the empyrean results that come from tapping into high-end resources. The Presidential Who's Who organization is a leader in the recognition of excellence in business and professional arenas. Each year we review thousands of profiles and present the cream of the crop in our annual directory titled, Presidential Who’s Who Among Business and Professional Achievers. Only those who meet our high standards of performance and leadership in their field are granted membership and issued a copy of this coveted publication.

The fax that we received was signed by "MarkAnthony McGuiness," Chief Operations Officer. So I started searching for mentions of his name, and noticed a trend in some of the comments. For example, Bob Ramos wrote the following:

I also got the fax but did not respond because I realized it was a con. But, the unfortunate thing is that since they send these out in a mass faxing, some poor souls will actually send in their money. These folks should be prosecuted.

Abdou echoed a similar comment:

I contacted the NY Chamber of Commerce to report this practiceand I will ask anybody to do the same bc hate junk fax.

There's a similar comment from Another Distinguished Persona:

Sending my invitation on to the FCC to investigate this junk fax and Mr. Mark Anthony McGuiness.

Note that all three of these people, and probably countless others, believe that McGuiness is guilty of a lack of ethics, or perhaps even of criminal activity.

But is he?

Regarding the issue of unsolicited faxes, it should be noted that the bottom of the fax included the ability to call a phone number and enter your ten digit fax number to be removed from future faxings.

So now we're down to the issue of whether the offer itself warrants criminal prosecution. In essence, the fax tells you that your name has been accepted for inclusion, but the fax (and the website) do NOT tell you that if you actually want to see the book that includes your name, you need to pay hundreds of dollars (or over $1,000 in some cases). And once they get you on the phone, they will do whatever they can to get some amount of money from you, if only a couple of hundred bucks.

But is this a crime?

Before you answer this question, consider the following facts.

I am aware of a company in northern California that sells a product called the "iPhone." If you haven't heard of this product, it is a mobile phone with advanced smartphone capabilities. You can buy these phones for as little as $99 (the current price for an 8 GB iPhone 3G).

Of course, if you buy that phone, it won't work. You see, you also have to buy phone service, including (in the United States) a data plan (at least $15/month), a voice plan (at least $40/month), and a text plan (at least $5/month). So you're looking at monthly fees of at least $60/month, and possibly as much as $115/month or more ($135 or more if you want tethering). Oh, and you'll be charged these fees every month for a minimum of 24 months, which means that your so-called $99 phone could cost you over $3,000.

So how many people have reported Apple and AT&T to their local Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau, or their local police department?

Perhaps Presidential Who's Who is not the best use of one's money, but I don't think that you can necessarily assume that it is criminal. Although the Titusville, Florida Police Department has published some information about the firm:

PAL Director recognized with prestigous award
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

PAL Director
SPO Patti Morgan

The Titusville Police Department’s PAL Director, Senior Officer Patty Morgan has been nominated for a national award and selected as a Presidential Who’s Who.

Presidential Who’s Who recognizes and selects key executives, professionals and organizations in all disciplines and industries for outstanding business and professional achievements. The recognition is shared by those who have reached a distinguished level of success in their chosen profession. The nomination was conducted through research submitted by Dunn & Bradley for review and inclusion in a prestigious 2008 edition of a national volume kept in the Library of Congress.

Senior Officer Morgan submitted to a telephone interview on October 2, 2007 and was then asked to submit a picture of herself along with her resume for final review.

On January 15, 2008 Senior Officer Morgan received a telephone call from Mark Anthony McGuinness, Chief Operations Officer, and Frank Ciaccio, CEO, in Long Island City, New York and informed her that she was a recipient of the Presidential Who’s Who among Business and Professional Achievers for 2008 with inclusion in the national volume (book). Senior Officer Morgan will be receiving a plaque in the mail. Her name, picture and biography will be listed under an area of expertise in the 2008 book that is due out in March.

Now let's say that you just spent an unpleasant half hour on the phone with Mr. McGuiness, and you become so incensed that you march down to your local police Titusville. You're going to look pretty stupid when the clerk tells you that not only was no crime committed, but that you obviously aren't a quality individual like Senior Officer Morgan, who (for whatever reason) saw some value in the Presidential Who's Who service offering.

So before you run about demanding jail time for someone, make sure that they actually committed a crime.
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