Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Abusing my bully pulpit... Scam Alert: Longwood/Auto Marketing Systems

Not getting Involved

One of the great things about having a blog is that, when I am truly annoyed about something, I can use it as a place to vent. And while you may wish to simply skip the rest of this post if you don't want to hear me whine, you might also find value in reading, to avoid the same situation...

As I wrote here yesterday, we replaced the sleeper sofa here at Infinity. The sofa we removed, while it had some problems, specifically, the cushion foam was no longer comfortable, still had a lot of life left in it, and we knew someone else could get some good use out of it. Also, we abhor sending things to the landfill if there is any alternative. Of course, we don't have room to haul around an extra couch until we can get rid of it, so finding someone to take it within a few days (so that it also did not become an annoyance in the Infinity shop) was a priority.

We offered the sofa up to other folks converting buses, a notably parsimonious crowd, on two bulletin boards dedicated to that activity. But I also posted a for-sale ad on the Tacoma "Craigs List", on the theory that few bus nuts would be close enough to just come pick the thing up, and we really needed to move it. For the uninitiated, "Craigslist" is a free on-line want ad service, organized by geographic region and, as most want ad services, by category.

There are perhaps 30 categories on craigslist under "for sale," but "RV furniture" is not one of them. I could choose just plain "furniture," or "household," or even "auto parts," but to me the best fit was to just list it under "RVs." The ad very explicitly listed what it was that I was selling, had an asking price of $50, and included a photo of the sofa, so it was pretty clear to anyone who actually read the ad that I was not selling an "RV."

Craigslist is a searchable site, so anyone looking for a Flexsteel sleeper sofa would find this ad no matter where I listed it. But I did not want to get calls from people just looking for a household sleeper sofa, because I did not want to have to explain (likely many times over) how this one won't work unless it is bolted to the floor. As it turned out, I did ultimately get two legitimate calls from people in the Tacoma area interested in it, but after I had already promised it to a bus nut.

For the last week, my phone has been ringing every business day at about the same time each morning with a call from an "unknown number." When I answer, the line is dead. So this morning, when the call came, I let it roll to voice mail.

The message that was left was from someone named "Brad" from "Longwood, Inc." calling to tell me that his company could definitely help me sell my RV (huh?). There would be a small fee involved but it would be much more effective than traditional classified ads. He left a call-back number of 866-326-0949.

Of course, I called these folks back -- "Brad" was on another line (I don't think there is a "Brad" -- most likely this scam/sham/spam artist uses made-up first names to "code" their leads when/if the calls are returned). I read them the Riot Act, and I hope they have now removed my phone number from their database.

Clearly, this company, which also goes by "Auto Marketing Systems," "Longwood Industries," and perhaps several other names, and is operated by a Ms. Renee Fisher and Mr. Paul Russell from Bedford, Virginia, is using software to automatically harvest telephone numbers (and probably other salient details) from Craigslist ads in the Car and RV categories (and perhaps others), then making cold calls to those people to try to solicit business.

Now, Craigslist very clearly spells out in its terms of use for the web site that commercial enterprises are NOT permitted to call want-ad posters to solicit business unless invited, and every ad (mine included) by default includes this disclaimer: "it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests." But based on the huge number of complaints I could find on the 'net about this firm, they clearly do not care about this in the least. They apparently also cold-call sellers of vehicles in more traditional print-media want ads.

In addition to automatic harvesting of phone numbers from these web sites, Ms. Fisher, Mr. Russell and their minions clearly are scouring the internet for any signs of complaints against their company and its shady business practices. Mr. Russell has posted to myriad forums around the internet defending their business after complaints are posted. Since Google indexes this very blog fairly quickly, I fully expect Mr. Russell's robots to be reading this in short order, and I will not be the least bit surprised if (1) he comments here repudiating my account or defending their practices or (2) he or his army of underpaid boiler-room drones or software robots starts a spam or DoS attack here.

So, in hindsight, I have learned a valuable lesson, which is that phone numbers must be disguised in much the same way as email addresses when posted to on-line forums, lest they be harvested by spam-bots for nefarious purposes. I've also learned that Longwood Industries, AKA Auto Marketing Services, employs a lot of idiots who can't tell a sofa apart from an RV. And, lastly, the next time I want to sell an RV accessory or furnishing, I'll list it in a category that does not include vehicles for sale.

Photo by TarikB, used under a Creative Commons license.

36 comments:

  1. We sold our Class A motorhome and many other household items on Craigs List. I never include a phone number. Prospective buyers can only contact me via e-mail through Craigs List. So far I have not had any problems like you have described.

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  2. Yup, future idea to not include a phone number.

    I truly hope this guy doesn't bother commenting, it's not as if any of his defenses could possibly mean anything to your avid readers. It'll be just another 'woe is me, business is hard' byte that we'll ignore. ;)

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  3. Go get 'em Sean! I hate this kind of crap.

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  4. Crazy.....I have a couple of BMW parts for sale on the IBMWR (Internet BMW Riders)free want ads and I had the exact thing happen...the "unknown" calls with no one on the other end, and then today "Brad" left me a message and wanted to help sell my "vehicle".

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  5. Hi Sean! I, like yourself, was selling a vehicle on Craigslist and got contacted by this company. Not only that, they solicted my cell phone, which is in clear violation of FTC and FCC rules. There is so much more to this story, and I am considering taking legal action against them. I also see that you posted on the WhoCallsMe website, which I had previously posted to the evening before you did. They also have to identify themselves cia Caller ID and fail to do so. This company is doing so much wrong, it really is amazing. I encourage anyone who recieves a call from this company to file a complaint with the FTC and the FCC for violating telemarketing rules. I will be continuing my campaign against companies like this one for a very long time.

    P.S I live not too far from you, in Vancouver, WA. Cheers!

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  6. I strongly suggest everyone affected by these creeps contact their respective Attorney General's Office, Consumer Affairs Division. The OAG is the agency who will go after these guys, but they must have consumer complaints or they do not know about any problem.

    Hope this helps.

    -- Kevin

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  7. There is an organisation like this that works in Canada also. When I was selling my old RV last fall they were quite persistent about offering to do everything for me and get me more than I was asking if I would only send them a retainer. Needless to say I believe that old adage "If it is to good to be true, it probably is" so I didn't take advantage of their offer.

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  8. Sean,

    Just send them a box of 16 gauge extension cords :0

    Thanks
    Skip

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  9. I quit using craigslist, too many trolls and scammers. I remember posting an add and got an email in seconds asking if it was still for sale. Didn't mention what the item was, I knew it was a troll. I never reply if there is no phone number and it doesn't look right. Of course I don't have to worry about it anymore, I'm done with them!

    Paul

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  10. Keith & DorthaJul 2, 2009, 9:49:00 AM

    We are trying to sell a used car on Craigslist (and other listings)

    We just got "Brad's" call. I want to thank you for posting this. I found your blog posting and other complaints about this doing a bit of research.

    Now I won't have to bother taking the time to call them to see what they are offering since it looks to me like all they will be offering is to take some mone from me. lol

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  11. I appreciate your posting this! I too am selling a car on Craigslist and I too received a call from the elusive "Brad". When I phoned back I was put on hold listening to a tortuous rendition of "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" on a continuous loop! If that doesn't chase away clients I don't know what will! When someone did finally answer I had some questions to ask about the company, sadly "Brad" was on another line (busy fella, that Brad), but the lady who took my call was only too happy to help as long as I didn't want to know any specifics of the company beyond what is on their website. But she did tell me that if I authorized the $99 payment then her computer would magically unlock so that she could give me the information I wanted. I was born at night, but it wasn't last night.

    Happy travels, and thanks.

    Dan
    Chilliwack, BC

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  12. I also got a call from these scammers. My phone number is registed on the National do not call list and has been since 2005. Businesses who make unsolicited calls to numbers registered on the site (if the person has not previously contacted the company or done business with them) can have legal action taken against them if a complaint is filed.

    I have filed a complaint on the web site. I would advise any of you who have had this problem and are on the national do not call list to do the same.


    https://www.donotcall.gov/

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  13. I applaud you filing a complaint (I did as well), however you should also know that registered charities are exempt -- they are not required to comply with the "do not call" list. It is this charitable exemption that Longwood is claiming, since they are a registered 503(c) charity.

    I contend that they are abusing the privilege, but that's a matter for the courts to sort out. It is not a simple, cut-and-dried matter -- your complaint will not result in immediate action by the FCC or anyone else. FWIW.

    However, a large number of complaints over time might lead to an investigation of this so-called charity's shady practices, and, of course, if no one complains at all, then it is a sure bet there will be no stopping them. So I too encourage everyone who has been contacted by this firm to file a complaint. Just be aware that your complaint is not really that a "company" has violated the DNC list, but rather that a company may be fraudulently hiding under the immunity of a charity for the express purpose of circumventing the DNC list, which is really a different complaint.

    Personally, I don't think charities or anyone else should be exempted from the DNC rules, but that's another matter entirely.

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  14. Unfortunately, inspite of all the complaints, this company continues to call cel phones using numbers they extract from Craig's List and Autotrader.

    I once sold a car using the internet Classifieds 2000. The process was clean and pleasant. Now I have been trying to sell my Jeep for months and get nothing but trolls and spammers. How disapointing.

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  15. Don't ask, cuz I won't tell you how I know... but I have it from the inside... It's amazing to me the amount of training givin to the one's who answer the phones at AMS. They are trained to con and answer your objections effectively. Shadey, slimey or whatever you want to call them... everything they do is 100% legal. They never flat out lie to you. They're sure to be vague. Longwood makes the robo calls (501c3 non profits exempt from new robo spam laws) and AMS recieves the calls and basically gives longwood a cut. I assure you everything they do/say is perfectly legal. It's truly fascinating they way it's structured so that it's complient to the law... I could go on, but wanted to say that it's all legal. Oh, btw. CraigsList's disclaimer says "it is not ok to contact...etc" Show me a court in any land that recognizes "it is not ok" as legally binding. You're technically breaking no laws by soliciting CraigsList posters

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  16. Miguel DominguezNov 10, 2009, 3:47:00 PM

    Hello. I made the stupid mistake of publishing my phone number. Yes, "Bard" left me a message but it sounds more like a recording. Notice that "Brad" calls from an "Unknown" number on the caller ID. Thanks for the informaiton on your BLOG there is no question these guys are pathetic scamers.

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  17. Ah! the "quiet one"... I am proud of you.
    Spirit is too by the way...
    Ara & Spirit

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  18. Thanks for your Blog, I just got a call on my cell from Brad and he left me a voice mail. I called them back and spoke with a lady that gave me their fee and I told them I would look into it and call them back. I guess I got my answer. Thanks I just save $229!

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  19. THANK YOU. You just saved me a couple hundred bucks.

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  20. I bought a $10 tracfone at Dollar General when I sold a large $ item on Craigslist, rather than give out my regular cell number. I've used Craigslist enough to know that more than 1/2 the replies you receive from "people" wanting your item are just info harvesters. Once they get your cell number, it's all over - they sell it and you'll get a ton of annoyance calls.

    Seriously, a $10 tracfone gives you 20 minutes of talk time and 45 days of service which is usually enough to listen to messages legitimate buyers will leave (call them back using a different phone) and 45 days is more than enough time to sell your item.
    Well worth $10, and it's still cheaper than a newspaper classified ad.

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  21. Well, I fell for it. Desperate to sell my truck last October, they got my $229. I NEVER received one single phone call from any prospective buyer. Not even one.

    I complied with all the terms of Longwood Inc's (aka Auto Marketing Systems) 90 day refund "guarantee" in January. Guess what? Two months later my refund is still being "processed". What I've done is called my credit card company.

    Still, these guys need to be reported to the proper authorities. Problem is, I don't know who to contact. Absolute thieves and I feel dumb for falling for it.

    Lesson learned: don't put your phone number on Craigslist and stay away from Brad and Longwood Inc/Auto Marketing Systems ! ! !

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  22. Well I was going to help my parents sell Car about a month ago and i made the mistake of putting their number on our craigslist add.... They aren't the most internet savvy so i though it wasn't a bad idea for people to contact them directly for more info about the car... Needless to say they were contacted by one "Dee House" (lol sounds more like a cell block than a person)suggesting that they advertise with them for various reasons. They obviously didn't do their research as well as they should have and were taken for $149. It goes to show you: DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU SEND A RANDOM COMPANY YOUR MONEY!!!!!! As i like to say, when in doubt, google it!

    Hope this help someone else to not get ripped off!

    Sean

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  23. Haha i know i shouldn't be laughing but i myself just got a call from "brad" when i called back i got "Donna"!! Thank for the posting!!! Poor things they gotta try harder! lol Seriously what are people thinking these days!!!????

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  24. Damn! I should've googled this company before! Sounded good so I agreed to their "deal". Same hook, line and sinker that the other victims wrote. I think I'll call them and tell them I've contacted the RCMP frauds division. Not a lie actually. I'll see what they have to tell me later in the week.

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  25. I received the recorded call from "Brad" from "longwood 'ink' " who gave me 1-866-326-9921 as a number to call back.

    After reading the comments here and elsewhere about this recorded message, I called what turned out to be "Auto Marketing Systems". "Linda" answered, and I asked which of my cars for sale they had seen, and how they got my number. She asked, "Are you a dealer?" I said "yes", and she immediately said they'd made a mistake calling me, and would put me on their 'do not call' list.

    Too late - I've already filed a complaint with the National Do Not Call Registry.

    And I'm not a dealer, nor do I have any car for sale anywhere.

    As for Auto Marketing Systems, or Longwood, "Inc.", here is the link to the Better Business Bureau's report:

    http://www.bbb.org/western-virginia/business-reviews/auto-listing-service/longwood-industries-inc-in-bedford-va-9004961/

    You will note that Longwood "Inc." is actually Longwood "Industries" (http://longwoodinc.com) which seems to be more rightfully named. This website is very "industrious" in offering embroidery, screen printing, tote bags, AND marketing your car.

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  26. Hello everyone, I’ve read all the posts and find the replies from Paul rather amusing. This would apply to the telephone numbers 866-326-0949, 800-430-1965, 877,572-5714..
    Paul, who is actually the owner of the company, Bryant Cass, sits in his office all day scouring sites like this pretending to be some low level employee. All of their companies have such bad Internet blogs that they must try and do damage control, which explains all his recent posts.
    “Auto Marketing Systems” is also thebiglot.com, autohopper.com , et al and all owned by Adventis, Inc. based in Roanoke, Virginia. His other business partner, and brother, is Mason Cass. I would contend that Messrs. Cass do not like to be called and hung up on.
    Adventis does not “buy” leads at all – they simply have computers that pull numbers off the Internet, load them into their automated dialers and continuously call people all day long. Their business model is predicated on leaving a message because they know this type of service does not sell well cold calling. This explains why many of you get hung up on – the system hears you answer and then it disconnects.
    The model of these clowns is simply – charge a fee, make a refund policy extremely difficult to follow and hope that a)Not many people apply for the refund and/or b)Make it difficult to “qualify”.
    Let me again state that any notion that this company purchases leads is purely nonsensical and fraudulent advertising. Their website(s) get very little web traffic and they only consumers who shop on their website are customers that end up buying their service – which amounts to not much web traffic.
    Further, Adventis does not sell hardly any cars via their website. I would estimate that out of 1,000 vehicles placed on their website less than 3 get sold due to their service. Adding to their poor sales record, Messrs Cass know nothing about car values, car selling trends, buying/selling or the used car market in general. They are counting on your naivet̩РI hope this explanation keeps many more from becoming victims.
    We all get emotional about selling our vehicle, but the best places to sell your vehicle these days remains AutoTrader (the highest trafficked website), eBaymotors, Cars.com and traditional print classifieds. You may also do better advertising your vehicle in a larger market, but rest assured, if you spend $200-$400 with Adventis you will not sell your vehicle due to their service.
    I’m sorry Mason and Bryant Cass, but Adventis, Longwood and your methods of extorting money from the public must be made public knowledge.
    -Your former #1 Sales Agent.

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  27. I think they have gotten wise to the whole "Brad" trick and are now going with Matt. I recieved a phone call this morning from them. Thanx for the post

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  28. Matt was the name used when they contacted me as well.

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  29. I have received two calls from "Matt" today on my car listed on Auto Trader. I googled their company and came across this article from Sean. Thanks everyone...you saved me.

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  30. I got the same call the other day but this guy was saying his name was Matt. And got the same turn around that he was busy with another call. I just finished looking it up and came across this article saw that it was a scam. So thanks to this article i want to thanks Sean as well. I was close to giving out $249 for nothing.

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  31. Matt Carter just called from ID: "unknown." left a voicemail, and when I called back, he was "on another call." Spoke to Maggie Hubbard.

    I'm glad I found this blog!

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  32. Glad I used Google today...got the very same phone call from Matt Carter today. Called them back (I know...), and was immediately taken aback by their "guarantee to get my full asking price" for my truck. All I had to do was give them my credit card number. When I balked at that, she directed me to their website...which looked kinda legit. However, while she was reading through her stuff, I googled their business name. Found a ton of bad stuff about them, including this blog. Thankfully, I had not given them any financial info...but they do have my email...thanks for posting this! I wish the authorities would shut places like this down!

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  33. Couple a days a go I got a call from a Mat Carter. When I called to ask what he was wanting I got a lady. She wanted $100.00 upfront. Since reading the information about Longwood Inc. I just find another way to sell the golf cart. I hate when life is interupted by Idiots...... Thanks

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  34. I also received a call from "Matt Carter" and was treated VERY rudely be the female customer service rep when inquiring info about the company. I was told they would not remove my number (which is on the national do not call list) from their list, after finding out they they're hiding under the protection of a non profit. I have since filed complaints with the FCC and the BBB.

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  35. The people that started this piece of shit company have diversified and I'm surprised no one has mentioned anything until now. In the very same building in which they run their scam out of, they own a relatively successful restaurant. I hear they've been spending the majority of their time down their lately (instead of trying to improve their faltering AMS brand). Here's the website: www-dot-blue5restaurant-dot-com... give'em a call!! Here's the number: 540.904-5338. You can ask for Bryant, Mason, Chris or Christian. They are the four "partners" who own Adventis and operate the Auto Marketing Systems brand. I'm sure they realize that AMS will eventually go down so they're parlaying YOUR cash into a legitimate business for years to come. Blue5... the house that tears, anger and frustration built!
    You're welcome.

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  36. I also have recieved a call from Matt Carter wanting to sell my vehical that I listed on Craigslist. I called back and got to talk to Theresa because Matt was unavailable on another call. She ran me through all the information and then asked me what credit card I wanted to use. Because I have had my vehical for sale for several months I almost gave her my card #. But instead I asked for more information and she sent me an email. I then looked it up on Line and am so glad that I did! The moral of the Story is always check out the service before taking advantage of it! Otherwise they might just be taking advantage of you.

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