Red Flags

There are companies who profit by exploiting people. Many years ago, we discovered that one speaker had an ulterior motive. His job required that he make a certain number of presentations and he was using us to fill his quota. I wrote this section because I received far too many “opportunities” from companies that just wanted something for nothing.

 

What Usually Happens

Unsolicited requests - many times people “just want to have a moment of your time to speak” to the organization or officers (most likely they will email you the President, directly). These people frequently offer the world to you but are very vague about the details. Be on your guard if the other person cannot clearly explain why they are contacting you. They may be intentionally being vague to draw you in.

I know you've read this before; the importance of it is worth repeating. Never take anything at face-value. Until you're 100% certain, document each interaction, and verify. Your reputation is at stake.

 

How to Respond

Read their correspondence and try to explain it to someone else. You would be amazed how quickly you can recognize something is not quite right.

Ask questions that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no."

If they completely ignore your question and try to redirect the conversation.

“If you could please answer my question about…”

If the other person is repeatedly trying to dodge your questions, you have the right to discontinue the dialogue.

 

Always perform an Internet search on the company or individual. If the top search results have "scam" or "scheme," you should immediately cut off all contact. Asking them why their company has such a bad reputation will get you nothing but spin.

Always get a second opinion from the Faculty Adviser on these solicitations.

 

The following section contains emails collected by Steven Byrd. His criticisms do not reflect that of any individual, institution, or anyone else.

 

Real Cases of Bad Business

Case One: Multi-Level Marketing

It has many names: referral marketing, network marketing and the latest I encountered was multi-level marketing and home-based business franchising. Much has been written about this controversial industry. The common practice of MLMs is to recruit you into buying merchandise thereby profiting off of you. You in turn try re-selling your stock to people you know in order to recovery your costs. Those who are exceptional salespeople survive. Don't fall for the hype.

 

Description of MLM: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-level_marketing

A "testimonial" with both pros and cons http://successonmymind.com/blog/2011/09/my-experience-with-network-marketing-and-why-ill-never-join-another/

Federal Trade Commission: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt057.shtm

MLM Watchdog: http://www.mlmwatchdog.com

 

Case Two: Fogging the Issue

A student emailed me wanting to speak to the Association about her company’s business plan. After a quick Google search, the company's search results popped up with "scam" and "Ponzi scheme."

When I asked her about her presentation on business development, she attempted to re-direct the conversation away from answering my question. Quote, “You may know of us. We are a billion dollar company with a network of over 600 companies.” This is an example of fogging.

I made it clear I did not like her vague responses and demanded detailed information about this supposed "business plan." The student would not give me anything concrete and ultimately admitted she had only been working on the job for one month. She then suggested that I take the time to speak to her supervisor for more details. I did not bother to follow up.

Yes, it was another MLM.

 

Case Three: I’d like to hire you (even though we’ve never met)

I received three Facebook messages from two (supposedly) different people and one event administrator (no personal account) regarding an event in Philadelphia. I was out of the country when the emails arrived and the event had already passed when I returned. At the time of this particular event and of this writing, Facebook does not have a vacation auto-response system.

Also at the time on our Facebook group, we listed every officer by rank. This was how I was contacted. The first email was from the event offering “an outstanding opportunity to build your résumé.” It was followed up a day later by a man saying he liked my profile and said, “If you’re interested, I got a job for you.” A day after that message, a woman, had taken the time to flatter me by complimenting my status as President and then offered me a job.

No job description, no interview, no background check, just a simple, “We’d love to hire you.” Sounds like a great opportunity doesn't it?

 

Well That Happened...

The following pages are quotes from actual emails I received all through 2011. It has been presented in the original format with the exception of removing the individual's name, company’s name and pointing out red flags.

 

Case Four: Seven Day Internship

Hello Steven,

I’m heading up Business Development for [REDACTED] which was recently named the fastest growing college social media site. [Notice no mention of a source.] We are selecting 10 students in North America to be Senior Marketing Interns [Meaningless Title Inflation] for a one week campus marketing blitz. Therefore, I wanted to get in touch and present this unique opportunity to you. [He could have emailed that same line to countless people. One week is way too short to gain any valuable experience.]

Then interns will work for just 7 days while at school and will receive the title of Senior Marketing Intern for [REDACTED], will get an incredible letter of recommendation from the hottest young CEO in Silicon Valley, and direct access for a potential full time internship with [REDACTED] or advice and mentorship on future jobs. [Again, there is no mention of a source.]

You will have just one goal: achieve 1000+ facebook likes for the [University] campus page on [REDACTED]. [That averages out to a minimum of 143 likes per day.] (We already have over 100 schools where this has happened within a week..it spreads fast!). [Why didn’t you name one of the other schools?] From setting up booths to putting up flyers, to getting in the newspaper, to Facebook and Twitter... you should do anything it takes. [What happens if I agree to this and fall short of your ambitious goal?]

Please let me know by 5pm on Monday, April 25th, whether member(s) of the group are interested in this 7 day marketing internship along with your résumé.  The blitz officially begins at 12:01AM Wednesday and ends 11:59pm the next Tuesday. [Asking me to agree to this “opportunity” with only 24 hours notice on Easter Sunday is despicably unprofessional.]

Best Regards,

[REDACTED]

 

Case Five: The Connection Virus

This salesman used a contact of mine on LinkedIn.com as an ice breaker. I never heard of neither him nor his company, yet in his request to connect, [REDACTED] said I’ve done business with him. LinkedIn’s policies are such that responding with “I don’t know this person,” flags their account.

 

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[REDACTED] has indicated you are a person they've done business with at [REDACTED], LLC

Hi, Steven.

[REDACTED] and I are now connected and I'd like to add you to my network.

Can we speak about how [REDACTED] is helping students at over 900 college career centers and libraries throughout the U.S.?

Regards,

[REDACTED]

 

What to Do

People who operate like this will try to connect with you and, much like a virus, spread to your connections. He will advertise to your contacts using your name as a referral...all without your consent! Sadly this also extends to alumni. Just because they're from your school does not automatically make them trustworthy.

If you find out this is happening:

Immediately sever your ties. This will prevent him or her from legitimately stating you are associated with him.

Immediately warn your network.

State the facts and save the evidence.

 

[REDACTED] tried to connect with me in a fraudulent manner and I warned others about him. Fortunately nothing bad came from this. However, if something did, because I saved the correspondence, I have proof that he lied. Case closed.

 

I checked out his profile and it was just one solid page of advertising about his company. That is a violation of LinkedIn’s terms of service. Do the world a favor and report obnoxious people like this.

 

 

Case Six: Full of Hot Air

Hello [Student Organization]. My name is [REDACTED], I am a retired Air Force officer and entrepreneur. [This person uses the Air Force and entrepreneur to build credibility, without mentioning rank.]

I have recently completed a unique internet marketing opportunity that could create a very substantial income for you and your organization. [What “unique” opportunity is this? Why has he not provided a numerical figure to this alleged “substantial” income? This is just bait to lure the audience in.] I would like to talk to you or one of your representatives about this program.

Please feel free to contact me by e-mail with a contact person, phone number and time to call, or you may call me at any time day or evening. Please have access to the internet if you call me.

I look forward to talking with you.

 

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Hello [REDACTED],

Our semester is already planned out and we are unable to spare any extra time.

- Steve

Thanks for the reply. I was going to show your organization how to raise 30-40,000 per year and each individual could raise 10-15,000 but maybe next year. [The numbers now suddenly appear. He's appealing to greed and fear of losing out on a "great opportunity" in attempts to recover.]

 

[REDACTED]

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Again, easy money does not exist. Apparently he was completely oblivious to the state of the economy in September 2011. A return on investment like that is pure fantasy in any economy.

 

Case Seven: The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

I’ve seen several emails where an unknown person was cc’ed in on the conversation. This is a great example of All Things Email: Why was (s)he included on this? My personal belief, it was the student’s boss.

 

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Dear [Student Organization],

My name is [REDACTED] and I am a junior at [Other Campus]. [He begins by trying to establish credibility and trust as being a fellow student.] I am sure many of your members are passionate about working on Wall Street during and after college. Like myself however, they are not in the business school and have not taken basic financial modeling and valuation classes, which are necessary to secure a position on Wall Street. Or they have taken these courses but need more work on them. [This is assuming so much that it is insulting one’s intelligence.] I would like to direct the club’s attention to an incredible opportunity that is coming to [REDACTED] on the weekend of October 1st and 2nd, 2011. This is such a great opportunity that we want to extend the invitation to [other] campuses.

[REDACTED], one of the leaders in corporate valuation and modeling training on Wall Street, has decided to conduct a training session with your club! This company usually trains banks like JP Morgan, BofA/Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse and Lazard, but is giving a select number of clubs the opportunity to get to know their instructors and to participate at a training seminar. In short, this is your opportunity to participate in an exclusive training program! [Name-dropping to impress the reader, and then immediately creating an appearance of high status to encourage a desire to learn more. I do not know for certain if this firm does actually train these companies.]

Here only a few of the benefits of participating:

- Networking: All of the [REDACTED] instructors work at a VP level or higher in investment banking and/or private equity on Wall Street. They have helped numerous students in the past receiving internships and jobs at top banks. All students participating in the workshop will automatically become part of this network. [Your network is composed of who you know and who knows you. Your classmates and peers should be part of your network.]

- Possible Admission to the [Allegedly Prestigious Branch of the Company]

[REDACTED] regularly keeps an eye on students that stand out during seminars. The best of the best may be admitted to our prestigious invitation-only [REDACTED]. The [REDACTED] is a global network of the current and former heads and officers of prestigious university clubs, and banking professionals. [REDACTED] provides exclusive networking and career development opportunities for selected members worldwide. Keep in mind, however, that it is not about how much you already know! It is about the passion you demonstrate and your willingness to learn. Visit [REDACTED] for more information. [This is a call to action without any credibility.]

- Interview Preparation: These guys not only teach you all of the technical modeling skills you have to know when going into an interview, but they will literally provide you with lists of questions and answers of the current recruiting season. They can do this because they have very tight bonds with human resource departments all over Wall Street. They will also conduct mock interviews in the classroom. [Many universities already have career centers. Alumni may be willing to help too if you ask.]

- Pricing: The seminar is usually offered at a rate of $750 -$1000/day to professionals. We have been able to negotiate a 90% discount for a whole weekend including materials and the finished models! The cost to students will be $199.00. The training session will last Saturday through Sunday from 9AM-5PM with a lunch break. [We would also have to arrange our own transportation and possible weekend lodging.]  More details on room location will follow shortly.

I highly endorse this opportunity and recommend your members attend. [With all this flowery praise I’m willing to bet someone is on the payroll!] I worked with this program this summer and feel as though I now have a leg up on my competition. I want other [University] students to be in the same position.

You can sign-up online at [REDACTED]. As seats are filling up, I suggest you sign-up as soon as you get the chance. [Did you not get enough sign-ups at your campus?]

I am looking forward to seeing all of you on Oct. 1st and 2nd. Please note the program will take place on the [Other Campus]. Attached is some more information. Please forward this information to your members.

Best,

[REDACTED]

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This was just a script written by the solicitor's firm. I spoke to other presidents and they had received the exact same email. The only difference was it said the name of their organization at the beginning.

The solicitor had the audacity to send us a reminder email. Subject line, “REMINDER” and his first word was “REMINDED” along with a complete copy-paste of his original sales pitch. Again an unknown person was CC’ed into the correspondence.

 

Case Eight: The Deans Like it and You Should Too!

I was contacted by two graduate students who wanted to start up a new venture run by their fellow students.

"We have spoken with the Deans of the Law School, Business School (grad and undergrad), and School of Arts and Sciences. They are enthusiastic about the project and would like to see it come to fruition."

The speaker tries to make the message more believable by citing that the Deans are "are enthusiastic about the project and would like to see it come to fruition." They may be or they may not be. As always, it is your duty to verify everything.

I spoke with the parties involved at the School of Business. To the best of my understanding, the Business Deans were not fully aware of this operation. I did email the Dean of the Law School and he did say the project was "briefly mentioned" and he "would like to be kept informed as progress continues." The business school deans were grateful I brought this to their attention. Unfortunately, I do not know the result of this case.

 

Suffer not a Charlatan

As President, you are under no obligations to bring someone in if you do not feel that he or she is adequate.

Accept nothing at face value. Verify everything until you are certain.

Unethical people prey on your trust. Many times they seek free advertising and labor. Others are after your money.

If someone claims to have spoken at another university or business before, find out everything you can from those people. Beware of shills.

Shills are people who pose as credible references for payment.

The Internet reveals tremendous amounts of details. If the company’s top search terms are “scam” or “pyramid scheme” obviously there’s a reputation problem.

Anyone who claims to be alumni, check with alumni relations.

Unsolicited jobs - “Could you please send me a job description in writing?” If they dodge the question this is a good indicator there isn’t one.

Remember the nuclear option? Your best bet is to ignore them. If they continue to contact you, tell them in no uncertain terms, "Do not email me again."

 

Epilogue

Thank you for your time and I wish you the best of luck in all that you do.