February 26, 2006 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Even after having written this column over 15 years, on occasion what has happened to one of my readers just makes me furious. That was the way I felt after reading an e-mail from Carol, age 69, living in Eureka, California, and very interested in going into business — into an Online Business.
If you have been tempted by flashy ads to start your own Internet business, Carol’s experience should make you think twice — and even after thinking twice, if you are still interested, schedule an appointment with both a lawyer and a psychiatrist before giving out your credit card number to the nice person on the phone. “I shouldn’t have done that,” Carol admitted to me, trying not to cry.
It all began innocently enough in March, 2004:
One day, I got a phone call from a very nice sounding young man who said that he had a wonderful business opportunity for me; I could start an online pharmacy business, for a very reasonable amount of money, and that I had nothing to do but to sit back and collect a commission off of everyone who ordered through my website. He told me they would do all the work, set up the website, and I would just pay them $695.
I gave them my Discover credit card number, but I got no results and called, wanting my money refunded. They told me I was stupid and needed to advertise in order to get business. They yelled at me and I was scared, and agreed to charge $3500 on the Discover card for advertising, but still nothing happened. I am out a total of $4195.
When I wrote to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, these crooks promised to refund my money if I would sign a settlement agreement, and I did. They have it and now refuse to send me my money. Can you help me?
Welcome to the world of Internet fraud
“There are thousands of people just like Carol, victims of internet business scams, people who think that all you have to do is to pay for a website and money will start flowing in. It’s fraud on a major scale and the company that your reader dealt with — based in the Phoenix area –must rake in $200,000 a week from victims all over the country,” I was told by Kevin Kerkela, who started a company to “help the victims of internet fraud get their money back,” he claims.
Kevin’s company is called Desert Vista Financial, but he also uses the name RMD Solutions. It was not by chance that I spoke with him, as what he does is so intertwined with internet business opportunity scams as to raise questions, a lot of questions, as you’ll see in a moment.
Kevin admitted that he had spent years, working for “fraudulent internet companies,” and was “well acquainted” with their tactics, as he had done “the same things” himself.
While Kevin considers himself to be a “reformed” internet scam artist, this is how he and his employees earn a nice living off of the victims of internet business opportunity rip-off companies:
We will help you get your money back!
“We buy lists of people who have dealt with the various internet business opportunity sites. Virtually all are suckers — swindled by internet frauds like Thehomepharmacy.com. Most have lost thousands of dollars and gotten nothing to show for it, even when orders were placed on the website, if one was ever created. So we call these victims and sell them a book they can use to recover their money.” He told me.
Yup, if you believe Kevin, he’s a real consumer advocate. If you are a victim, he’s your hero. Or is he? If you believe him, his staff calls the poor victim and clearly tells them that for the modest sum of $450, you’ll get his book and be on your way to a refund of the money the scam artists stole from you.
My reader has a different version. “I got a call from a Charles Stapp, who was with Desert Vista Financial, in Tempe Arizona, and that he could help me get my money back,” Carol told me. “I really understood him to mean that if I paid him $495 he would personally try to get me my money,” the elderly, cancer patient told me, close to tears. What she got for her $495 was a 200 page book on how to attempt to recover her money — much of it information freely available online, or at a fraction of the cost at any bookstore.
I asked Kevin for a copy of the book to review — and return — but he refused. I told him that if I felt it was worth the money, I would say so in print, and if I did not, I would also say so. I am still waiting for the book.
On a conference call that I set up with Carol and Kevin, he did agree to refund her money if she returned the book. It has been sent back, and she is waiting for her refund.
Don’t call here again!
Who is or what is Thehomepharmacy.com? First off, if you do a Google or MSN search — something that Carol never did before she forked over her credit card number — you’ll find a lot about this company, none of it any good, or at least nothing that I found. The stories I read all had the same ring as Carol’s. Older people, completely unfamiliar with the realities of the business world, interested in some kind of internet business.
To learn why her money was not refunded even though she signed the settlement agreement, I called their toll-free number and spoke with “Chris,” a guy who deserves an Academy Award for being a creep. When I asked to talk with management, and for their side of the story, the charming Chris yelled at me, “Our lawyers will be calling you! Don’t ever call here again!” “O.K. then tell me who are your lawyers,” I replied. Chris hung up, and I have also not gotten a call from the person who appears to be in charge, James Macry.
The better business bureau in Phoenix knows all about thehomepharmacy.com, my homepharmacy.com, storefrontpharmacy.com people’sinternetpharmacy.com, pharmacywealthnet.com.
Their website has several pages about these companies which have “an unsatisfactory record due to a pattern of complaints, misrepresentation of the products and services offered by the company.” I’ll keep you informed as things develop.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.