On Monday, 28 Sept 2004, my answering machine recorded a message from someone who appeared to be interested in my computer-help services:
Oh, Hi, Keith, this is Jane Franzen, I saw your ad in the paper, uh, I love that ad it is just so funny. But anyway, I was just wondering if you could give me a call. My number is 1-800-778-6296 and just ask for Jane. Uh, I need your help, so give me a call whenever you get a chance. Thanks. (MP3 Audio)
When I returned the call, it was answered: "Premier Impressions, may I help you?" I asked for Jane and was immediately transferred.
Jane explained that she was "with Chelan County" and the "Program Coordinator" for a project to produce "informational magnets" for the local public. The printed refrigerator magnets would display the phone numbers of local police, fire and other county services, "as a service to the public and to help the county as well, as it helps people to contact the right departments at the right numbers." Jane added that they were looking for eight local businesses to sponsor the project.
The business name Premier Impressions and the claim that she was "with the county" were at odds in my mind, as was the deceptive nature of Jane's voice message. I asked Jane if she were a County employee. She explained that Premier Impressions was under contract to the County to produce the "informational magnets" and that she was the Program Coordinator. She said the police had made an agreement to distribute the magnets to the public.
If the County had contracted for the work, why did it need funding? Do the police actually devote their resources to the distribution of refrigerator magnets?
Jane wanted $225.50 for a "one-unit" ad, but recommended the two-unit ad for $325.50. I led Jane to believe I was interested, hung up and immediately called the phone company in an effort to determine who owned the 800 number I had just dialed.
Verizon referred me to its Repair Center. The Repair Center was able to direct me to the carrier that provides phone service to that number: SBC Long Distance. Verizon gave me their number to call: 877-973-7767.
SBC identified the customer as "Universal Adcom". When I asked where they were located, I was told that they would not release that information. Despite much additional effort, I was unable to persuade anyone at SBC to tell me Universal Adcom's location.
I called the County Sheriff's administrative office and was informed that there exists no agreement for the police to distribute anyone's informational magnets. They knew nothing of the company.
I called the Lake Chelan Mirror, and informed them that Universal Adcom was contacting the Mirror's advertisers.
I sought out information on the Internet, searching Google on the phrases "Premier Impressions" and "Universal Adcom". I was immediately rewarded with a wealth of information.
Under those names and others, Universal Adcom has been perpetrating this and similar scams on a nationwide scale. Most of these references describe deceptive practices similar to those I observed:
"...the company is currently selling advertising to create business awareness along with promoting Warren County School's Baseball Schedule.
"'The Better Business Bureau has contacted the Warren County School System and has been able to determine that Universal Adcom is not selling the advertising on behalf of the school system,' says BBB Branch Manager, Beth Furbush. 'The school system does not have a contract nor is it aware of any plans to promote the baseball program with Universal Adcom' explains Furbush."
"... 'A Company representative is selling advertising in the Logan County area claiming to have support of the Chamber of Commerce,' BBB Branch Manager, Leslie Baughn said. ...
"The Better Business Bureau of Fort Worth, Texas, which services the Arlington area, states that the company has an unsatisfactory record due to unanswered and unresolved complaints. Complaints received by the BBB concern selling practices, billing disputes and product quality.
"Please be aware that the advertising is not being sold with the consent of the Logan County Chamber of Commerce."
"The calendar which is approved by the college and benefits it is being sold by Don Rathman Publishing out of Tulsa. The college has contracted for a calendar with this company for several years. "They've been really good, and the college gets a good cut of the profits for its athletic programs," McSpadden said.
"The second calendar, being sold by Premier Impressions of St. Peters, Mo., does not benefit SCCC in any way and is not endorsed by the school, McSpadden said."
"Calling it a 'Sales Scam,' the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce is warning members of a sales campaign that is using the Chamber's name without permission.
"'It has been brought to our attention that a company is notifying Putnam County Chamber of Commerce members attempting to sell ads for a "Putnam County Community Guide,"' says Project Director Gina Dailey. 'This is a refrigerator magnet that lists emergency phone numbers. The company, Universal Adcom or Premier Impressions, is stating that they are selling ads along the border of the magnet and that they are working with the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce to distribute them. They are making reference to the Chamber's website. WE HAVE NOT AUTHORIZED ANY SUCH PUBLICATION.'"
"PRCC public relations director Larry Stanford said the firm, headquartered in St. Peters, Mo. has been canvassing the area selling advertisements to local businesses in regards to a poster that will feature Pearl River.
"'It should be noted that PRCC doesn't benefit in any way from Premier Impressions' sales.'"
"Premier impressions, a for-profit solicitation company, may have solicited unauthorized donations using the Police Department name. The matter has been referred to the Office of Attorney General, Bureau of Charitable Organizations, for an investigation."
" The grants are a result of a $25,000 settlement with two jointly owned companies: Multi-Marketing Corporation d/b/a Custom Sports Publications and Premier Impressions, LLC. Multi-Marketing is incorporated in Texas, while Premier is incorporated in Missouri.
"The Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office accused the companies of deceptive trade practices. By insinuating that local schools would benefit, the companies sold advertisements to local Arkansas businesses to be displayed in school sports calendars - either football or basketball."
"Chicago – Attorney General Lisa Madigan today filed a lawsuit in Shelby County Circuit Court alleging that a Texas marketing company has been defrauding Illinois customers by leading them to believe that portions of the money they pay to buy ads in local publications are being donated to local high schools and civic organizations. In fact, the company does not donate any portion of the funds. ...
"According to the complaint, Universal Adcom tells the potential advertisers that the item being marketed is part of a fundraiser for the particular civic group displayed on the product, and that a percentage of the proceeds will go to the featured group. It is alleged that none of the local organizations have received a penny from Universal Adcom or its affiliate companies. Universal Adcom and its affiliates primarily solicit businesses to purchase advertising through telemarketing calls. Madigan’s complaint also alleges the marketing company faxes and mails invoices to local business charging them for advertising space regardless of whether an advertisement has in fact been ordered. According to some consumer complaints received, the local businesses specifically refused the advertisement and then received an invoice."
"When Carolyn Granaroli-Frary learned that a company in Texas contacted local businesses to sell them advertising space on a sports schedule poster she became suspicious.
"... Granaroli-Frary contacted the Fort Worth Better Business Bureau (BBB). A two-page report confirmed her suspicion. The company, owned by a man listed as Tom Gildenblatt does business under several names, including D & L Map Service, Custom Sports Publications, Weekend Fisherman, Historical Map Society, in Carpinteria's case, the telemarketing firm of Universal Adcom calling for a High School Sports Promotions company. The report states that this is not necessarily a complete list.
"In Texas the firm has an unsatisfactory BBB record based on unanswered complaints, unresolved complaints, complaints concerning selling practices, billing disputes and product quality. Specific complaints allege the company misrepresented themselves claiming that advertising would benefit local schools.
"In 1999 a suit was filed against Gildenblatt's company. The case has not yet reached court.
"Also in 1999 the Office of Consumer Affairs in the state of Georgia issued a Cease and Desist Order to the company for unfair and deceptive telemarketing practices."
"A band of sly-talking Texas hucksters recently made off with a couple grand from local businesses - and used the name of Ottawa Township High School to do it. Although there was nothing technically illegal about the score, the scheme was underhanded and deceptive.
"...a company called High School Sports Promotions of Arlington, Texas, publishing a poster schedule of the Pirate basketball team. It used the school’s name and logo, despite multiple denials of permission from Principal Tom Jobst and took advertising money from nine local organizations who were under the impression the school would receive a portion of the revenues from the poster. ...
"The company’s deception didn’t end there. Its advertising sales associates - a local business owner said they were 'very young ladies' who probably did not talk with a Texas drawl - sold the advertising by saying they represented the high school, but of course failing to mention the school gets none of the proceeds."
".They (local businesses) think they're supporting Hillcrest High when really somebody else is profiting off this,' said Ram Booster Club president Chris Rennison."
"Rennison is worried local booster clubs and the teams they represent are losing money to marketing firms that have no connection to local schools. ...
"'We're losing money that should be going to the school,' Rennison said. 'I'm estimating that about $8,000 didn't come to the Ram boosters that otherwise would have because of this kind of misrepresentation.'"
The available facts suggest that Universal Adcom with its affiliated entities:
However legal or illegal their practices, there can be no question whatsoever that these people do BAD business. Don't buy their advertising, don't buy their products, watch out for false billings, and if you can, help others - especially the businesses who are their main targets - to know who they're dealing with.
Universal Adcom's website: http://www.universalad.com/
On-Line Classifieds for Fort Worth, TX
"Looking for a job that's more like a party? We offer: $10/hr guaranteed Great commissions Pd. training Benefits Cash daily Health Club & more.... UNIVERSAL ADCOM SEEKING EXP SALES REPS w/the desire to succeed. FW 817-263-9600 Arl 817-633-3300 $1000wk/potential. Must work 40 hours. Posted: Tue, 31 Aug. 2004 - Expires: Thu, 30 Sep. 2004"
Honest persons need not apply.