TAS Tips: Buyer Beware

By Steve Michaels

It is unfortunate, but for several years now many owners of telemessaging services have been duped into selling their business or equipment and not getting paid. Others have sent in their money to buy accounts or equipment and have received nothing in return. This activity seems to be coming from one particular group of suspected con artists. If you are considering similar transactions, you should familiarize yourself with some of the tactics used by unscrupulous persons who may be preying on the telemessaging industry.

I have in front of me many letters that start something like:

  • “The check they gave me was returned three times NSF. I lost over $18K.”
  • “I sold my equipment through their leasing company but when I called the leasing company to see where my money was, the phone had been disconnected.”
  • “I shipped my [voice mail] system and even helped him install it over the phone. He promised that he would send out the check the same day but after several days had passed, I called, and his phone was disconnected. I had no way to contact him. I discovered that he and his followers were con artists. I then realized that I would never receive my $5500.”

Now con artists appear to be faxing letters stating that their group is reputable and that they are currently offering 15 times monthly billing, sight unseen for your business. It seems as though they also are faxing out lists of used equipment for next to nothing sales prices. It is suspected that this equipment has been purchased from legitimate business owners, who were never paid for their transactions.

Remember, if a deal sounds to good to be true, then it usually is.

The con artists’ mode of operation seems to be to start a company using the name of a reputable industry business owner, get phone lines installed, and purchase accounts and equipment from legitimate telemessaging businesses, for which they never pay. To add additional accounts, they may call and fax exceptional rates to prospective clients offering two to three months free if they pay a year in advance. After several months they are likely to drop out of sight, keep the cash, sell the equipment, and start all over again.

Some of my own clients have received letters from these individuals. They state that they ran a credit check through Dun and Bradstreet and are interested in purchasing their accounts for a sky-high price with 10% down and the balance over 12 months. The first check may be good but the balance never comes.  Once an owner releases accounts to them or sells equipment, it is next to impossible to get them back.

Having personally checked with the local police and the FBI in this group’s home state, both agencies stated that a civil proceeding is the recommended process. Authorities are reluctant to pursue these types of matters.

If you are unsure of whom you are dealing with, simply call your association, industry vendors, other telemessaging services owners, or a broker who deals in the industry. The trust factor is very high in such a transaction. It sometimes becomes necessary to either hire an attorney, escrow agent, or a reputable broker who can keep the acquisition clean and fair while preventing you from being victimized.

Steve Michaels and TAS Marketing have been serving the TAS industry in the mergers and acquisitions market for over 24 years with over 230 businesses sold. He may be contacted at 800-369-6126 or tas@tasmarketing.com.

[From Connection MagazineNovember 2003]

Learn more about the Telephone Answering Service Industry.

How to Start a Telephone Answering Service, by Peter Lyle DeHaan, PdH
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