Elderly man duped into work at home scheme

January 25, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
With unemployment at its highest level in decades, many people are tempted by work at home offers. But these offers are likely to cost you more than you'll ever earn.

If a job requires you to fork over a lot of money to start and somebody's claiming you'll get rich fast, it's a big red flag. Unfortunately for one elderly gentleman, a work at home job cost him a lot of his life savings.

Max Parker is long since retired and living in a quiet mobile home park. But he still longs for a better life, so the 94-year-old couldn't resist an offer to make some big money.

"It was a get rich quick deal, so I suckered in," he said.

Max got a call from a solicitor in Arizona. He was told he could earn hundreds of dollars a day selling credit-card swiping machines for Bankcard Empire of Phoenix. There was just a small startup fee of $319 and Max was hooked.

"I wanted to make some money and they were going to make me some money," he said.

What he got was a brochure and a DVD, but no contract and no apparent way to earn money. Max found a lot of complaints about Bankcard Empire on the Internet, so he called the company to cancel his deal.

Instead, a salesperson on the phone talked him into investing more money -- a lot more -- $10,000 in all.

"All I had to do was give him $10,000 and I'd get all these things," he said.

The company charged $10,000 to Max's Chase credit card. Max believed his money would be used to obtain the names of 10,000 potential customers, that Bankcard Empire would do all the selling and he'd get a big cut of the action. But months passed and he didn't receive anything.

When Max disputed the $10,000 charge on his credit card, he says someone from the company called and urged him to drop the dispute -- that he would get paid, he just had to turn in forms for the IRS.

"So I, like a dummy, I canceled the dispute and sent the paperwork in," he said.

Max still hasn't received a dime and meanwhile, he's paying off the $10,000 on his card.

"Unfortunately I hear about this all the time, and it's really open season on so many adults when it comes to telemarketing," Erika Falk from the Institute of Aging said.

Falk says older people can be easily tempted by this type of pitch.

"If I get this money it's going to change my life, and their discernment goes down. They can lose everything," she said.

But Max contacted 7 On Your Side and we investigated. It turns out, authorities in Illinois and Minnesota ordered Bankcard Empire to stop doing business there because it failed to comply with regulations in those states for selling business opportunities.

The company has an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau, with 357 complaints.

7 On Your Side reached Bankcard Empire president David Mersky. He said his company had nothing to do with the $10,000 charge on Max's card and that it went to a separate company, "Edgemont Productions."

But Edgemont and Bankcard Empire share the same office, same address, same phone numbers and same customer service lines. Mersky said it's because Edgemont provides advertising for Bankcard Empire affiliates like Max.

Edgemont also gets an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau. No one representing "Edgemont" returned our calls.

However, 7 On Your Side contacted Chase Bank and got action there. Chase not only reopened Max's dispute but said it will remove that $10,000 charge plus interest.

Max is relieved, though still vulnerable. While 7 On Your Side was at his home, he got another solicitation to work at home for a fee. We talked him out of it, and Max promises he's going to be a little less trusting next time.