Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Abusing my bully pulpit... Scam Alert: Longwood/Auto Marketing Systems
Posted by Sean
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.
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.