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Friends In Business
& Scams 101

The Mentor,
the Little Voice
and Me

a cheap lesson
on trusting your instincts

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Okay, nobody listens to that one, so try this:.... "Pay attention to your inner voice."

And don't forget these: "Never ignore your first impression."  "Everything comes with a price tag."  "Profit is the great motivator."  "Never take anyone at face value."  "Be a leader, not a follower."

And last but certainly not least, my personal favorite....


Well, I'm out of cliches (quit cheering!).... but as you can tell, this experience taught me a whole PILE of lessons.

Without preaching (I'll try, really I will), I am going to tell you a story. 

It's a "Look-What-Happened-To-Me" story.... but you must understand that I accept FULL responsibility for it.  I allowed myself to be led like a bull with a ring through its nose.  When I made the decision to do that, it became my problem and nobody else's.

I'm writing this little story for two reasons.... one Noble, and the other Selfish. 

Let's do Noble first:.... TO EDUCATE AND INFORM.

(Yeah, that sounds very good.  I like it.)

And Selfish second:.... THERAPY. 

(Hah!  I'll bet you thought it was revenge.  Nope.  You see, I have to write.  It's how I sort out the stupid things I do and put them behind me.  If it were revenge, I'd be planting clues that would lead everyone who reads this straight to The Mentor.)

This page will be here for a long time to come.  The huge majority of people who read it will have no idea of the specifics, and for the handful who do, IF they are influenced by it -- which I doubt -- the damage to The Mentor will be minimal and very temporary.  He will continue to prosper, and the ironic part is, he probably should, because he REALLY knows his business (or so he told me).  Manipulation isn't his only talent (I think).

Therefore, I am not suggesting for one minute that you don't follow....

Just that you follow at a safe distance. 

So as much as I would love to smuggle a dozen hornets into The Mentor's shorts, this page was not born out of a desire for revenge.

(But doesn't that hornet thing sound GREAT?)

I cannot say I was "scammed" in this latest boo-boo, because no money changed hands.  Not one dime.  And it wasn't because I didn't have any (which I didn't).  It was because The Mentor never asked for any.  On that score, he was true to his word, and The Little Voice (just this once) was wrong.

To say that I allowed myself to become a pawn would be more accurate -- and thank goodness, all I lost was time (plus another chip off the old confidence block).


So what follows is a lesson in the importance of trusting your instincts.  I didn't, and it could have been a lot worse.  I hope you can learn something from my experience.  (And if you can't, well then feel free to humor me and say you did.)

As you read, tally up the "red flags" I chose to ignore and ask yourself what you would have done in my shoes.  I suspect every person reading this has shoved "red flags" out of the way and told their inner voice to shut up a time or two.

Never do it again!

One other point: A mentor can be the best thing that ever happens to you.  I would be a fool to say otherwise.  If you find someone willing to share their knowledge and help you avoid some of the painful trial-and-error, that's fantastic!!

But if they want to GIVE TOO MUCH....

if BELLS TINKLE, and your Little Voice WHISPERS....

then he starts HOLLERING and all of a sudden he's SCREAMING....


The little sucker is just trying to do his job.

End of sermon.

Get comfy.  Here's the story:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Once Upon A Time....

I started a scam-prevention site and bulletin board on the net.  I was nervous about it.... stage fright, you know.... but my bulletin board took off quickly, and I got lots of nice letters from people who said I had saved them from being scammed.

I was very happy.

One day, there was some wonderful advice on my board from a man who was to become The Mentor.  I was impressed.

The next day there was some more advice.

And the day after that.

Everyone was impressed.... and very grateful.

Especially me.

One day a message appeared on my board.  It was from The Mentor.  He had been thinking about reactivating his dealership with Company #1, but he had decided to become a subdealer through me instead.  I was shocked speechless (which is very rare).

Furthermore, he suggested that others do the same, because "by supporting each other" (and more specifically, "by supporting Lesley"), we were "strengthening the group as a whole".... and the goal, after all, was to unite and work together for the common good.

The Little Voice whispered, "That wasn't your goal."

I said, "It's a good goal."

Even so, I was mortified.  Grateful to my toes, you understand.... but completely mortified.  You see, at that time, I didn't allow any advertising of any kind on my bulletin board.  This smelled a lot like advertising.

I told The Mentor I was really uncomfortable about promoting myself this way, but he patiently explained again and again how building a strong organization was the best way to help "my people."

Now that's pretty heavy stuff for a socially-uncomfortable middle-aged lady who had been falling flat on her face for three years and still hadn't learned how to sell a darn thing, right?

The Little Voice said, "But it's not what you were trying to do."

I said, "It's better than what I was trying to do."

The Mentor said his company intended to promote me and these products "very heavily in the upcoming months."

I would have a free spread in his catalog.

Okay, so it wasn't Harriet Carter, but it was distributed nationally to known mail-order buyers and past customers.  And it pulled lots of orders.

Not only would I have this free spread promoting my products and my subdealerships.... but all "my people" would have a free ad as well.  And there would be a monthly newsletter bearing my company name and providing continuing support to all "my people."  Only I would be offering subdealerships with a monthly newsletter and full support and free ads in a catalog with national circulation.... giving me a distinct edge over every other dealer on the net.

The Little Voice said, "WHY?"

I said, "Because."

"Because" always sounds better than, "I dunno."

More authoritative.

I had no problem ignoring The Little Voice.... but those irritating bells that The Little Voice hauled with him everywhere he went just wouldn't shut up, so I decided to ask The Mentor.

"Why?" I said.

The Mentor was happy to explain.

He was very successful, thanks to HIS Mentor, who had done the same for him once upon a time.  And with his guidance, I would learn to produce my own catalog and my own newsletter.  I would, in turn, teach other people to do the same.  Then they, in turn.... well, you get the picture.

It was a great plan. 

And it was a noble plan.

Even so, I protested a while longer.  I didn't feel right about The Mentor spending his time helping me, and I didn't feel right about The Mentor giving up part of his own profit by subdealing under me.  I asked him to at least take a fair cut of the profit on anything I sold through his catalog. 

The Mentor wouldn't hear of it.

He didn't need the money.  You see, The Mentor did not do business on the internet.  His business was strictly regional.  To him, the internet was simply a tool.... a place to teach, to share his knowledge, and to guide others to success.

The Mentor's only mission was to promote my company and get me off the ground -- in other words, to help me undo three years worth of screw-ups -- and I would follow in his footsteps, just as he was following in the footsteps of HIS Mentor. 

I often joked that The Mentor was "dragging me to success," and he assured me that we were "a team," and if dragging me was what it took, then drag me he would.


Because The Mentor had been researching the net for a year, looking for "the right project."  He liked what I was trying to do on my scam-prevention site.  He liked my honesty.  He liked my personality.  He believed I was a natural leader.

In other words, he thought I was pretty hot stuff.

The Little Voice groaned, "I think I'm gonna be sick."

I said, "Shut up."

I'd never thought of myself that way before.... A LEADER OF PEOPLE.

After all, I had accomplished exactly nothing over the past three years, other than putting my family some $30,000 in debt with my stupid business ventures.

But wait!.... I did have one successful business, right?  So maybe I WAS made of the right stuff, just like The Mentor said!

And I'd never been anyone's "project" before.

Could it be that I was, just once in my life, in the right place at the right time?  That my ship had finally set sail and all I needed was The Mentor to help me steer?

I'm used to working like a dog, so it's not that I didn't recognize the need to "make it happen" on my own.... it's just that I kept botching the job.  I needed guidance.  The Mentor was eager to provide it.

So I buckled up my nose ring and said, "Lead me."

The Little Voice sighed.

There was no money involved here.  Not one red cent.  So what possible ulterior motive could there be?

I have to admit that kept eating away at me.... and I was so ashamed of myself for thinking such a thing.  After all, there are some genuinely GREAT people in the world, right?  They're called Philanthropists.  And just because I'd never met one didn't mean there weren't any.

The Mentor was helping me the way he was helped.  He was "giving back."

End of story.

And anyway, what could I possibly have that would be of value to him?

The Little Voice said, "You have a following.  People who listen when you talk."

I cracked up laughing and said, "Yeah, right."

A few months later, The Mentor signed up as my subdealer with Company #2.  I felt much better about this, because The Mentor would get his full commission; my cut would come directly from the company.  After taking forever to get organized, I was finally trying to get my dealership off the ground.  Selling is hard for me, and it was a real struggle.

Imagine!  The DAY AFTER The Mentor received his sample kit, he reported that his people were already out in the field! Calls for catalogs were coming in from all over!

I was so impressed!

I guess just about all "my people" were impressed.

My bulletin board became The Mentor's second home.

We all relied on him for advice.  I don't think any of us had ever met anyone quite like him before.  People would say, "Is he for real?"  Again and again I assured them, "Yup.  He's one of a kind."

It wasn't long before The Mentor announced that he had liquidated a big part of his organization.  Privately, he told me that he had done it because he could see the tremendous potential in Company #2.... a way to "make more money with less effort."  I didn't understand how that was possible with a commission of 25% or less, but I didn' t have much time to wonder before The Mentor informed "my people" that he had done it so he could devote more time to helping all of us launch our respective businesses.

The Little Voice said, "Hmmm.  Two different stories."

I said, "Who asked you?"

In between all this was a smattering of slightly strange happenings.

Nothing serious.... just enough to keep things stirred up. 

One day someone started a rumor that The Mentor was having serious health problems.  Everyone jumped in to wish him a speedy recovery.  Of course I was devastated when The Mentor told me in a private e-mail that "the tests were positive" and the outlook was dismal.

But a miracle happened!!

In less than two hours, we all received official notice that "exhaustive tests" had proven it was a false alarm!  Everyone was elated!

The Little Voice said, "Ever heard of a hospital moving that fast?"

I sneered, "What's your problem?"

One day on my board there was a story posted by The Mentor himself about something wonderful he did for a stranger who stopped to help him out on the road.  I mean, this was SO wonderful, and SO generous that I can't begin to describe it without spilling the beans, which I'm not going to.  But we're talking truly incredible.  Thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars worth of incredible!

I was a little uncomfortable when I read it though.  I thought such great deeds were done quietly.... without fanfare.  But I knew there were a few people who accused The Mentor of having ulterior motives.  By sharing this heartwarming story with us, he was proving these creeps wrong.  So you see? . . .

That's why he told us.

When The Mentor came back the second day and described The Grateful Stranger's reaction, he was just sharing his joy with us.... and reassuring us that we could trust him.

Of course I appreciated that.

Ditto when The Mentor came back the third day to tell us how The Grateful Stranger simply couldn't BELIEVE he didn't want anything in return.  And The Mentor had "a friend for life."

As always, I led the cheering, slobbering mob as message after message was posted praising The Mentor for his generosity.

The Little Voice said, "You've verified all this of course?"

I said, "Bug off."

Some time later, a rumor started that The Mentor had "left the net for good."

"Please tell us it isn't true!" we all wailed.

And just two days later....


The Mentor did just that!  He had no idea how such an ugly rumor had started, but he vowed NEVER to desert us.

Was that The Little Voice retching in the background?"

At about that time, an unwelcome visitor invaded my life.  It was The Man. 

The Man came after me because of my association with The Mentor.  Otherwise he would never have noticed me.

The Man hated The Mentor.

That made The Man evil.

The Man sent me long, rambling letters telling me his own life history as well as some very unsettling stuff about The Mentor which I chose not to believe.  Then The Man started sending me threats.  And he made sure I knew that he had my home address.

The Mentor told me that The Man intended to eventually take over my bulletin board and use it to draw people into his "circular mailing scam."  The Mentor knew The Man well.  He told me all about him.  Very unpleasant stuff.  But he assured me I had "nothing to fear."  He was having The Man watched and would know immediately if he left his home town on the other side of the country.

As always, The Mentor would take care of everything.

Things got really scary when The Mentor sent me e-mails about The Man, and when I clicked on "Reply," it was not The Mentor's e-mail address that showed up.  My replies had been going to The Man! How many times had that happened?  How much personal information had I divulged to The Man before I noticed?

The Mentor couldn't imagine how such a thing could have happened.  His mail program had crashed.  Could that be the culprit?

I was very upset.  I have a family to consider.

I wrote a letter to The Mentor and told him what had happened.  I explained why I was so upset and confused and asked to talk to him on the telephone.  I needed to know who was who.  A reasonable request, I thought, under the circumstances.  I asked The Mentor because I trusted him.  Otherwise, I would have called The Man and asked him, since I already had his phone number.

The Mentor blew a gasket.  He said it was time to part company.  That "a trust so easily broken is not a trust at all."  A true friend would not need to ask.  A true friend would believe.  A true friend would not ask why.

The Little Voice nodded and said, "Ahhh yes.  The old guilt button."

I was HOPPING mad.  Here I was, going through hell because The Man didn't like The Mentor.  I knew my request was reasonable (and yeah, I felt a little guilty too).  So I let The Mentor have it right between the eyes (figuratively speaking, of course).

The Mentor was contrite.  He apologized profusely and explained why he reacted so strongly.  It seems The Man had told The Mentor some tall tales about me.  And The Mentor believed them.  Now he knew better.

The Little Voice said, "But The Mentor knew The Man could not be trusted."

I said, "The Mentor is human, and The Man is a master of deceit."

So I rearranged everything to accommodate The Mentor.  I went to great lengths to banish The Man from my bulletin board and create a warm and cozy Cyberspace Home for The Mentor.

While I was frantically making these changes, The Mentor got into a screaming fight with The Man right there on my board.  I was shocked!  "Have you gone nuts??" I screeched.  "Would you please SHUT UP so I can get this done?"

The Mentor explained.

(The Mentor loved to explain.)

"I had no choice.  It had to be done that way so The Man would believe I was responsible for the whole thing.  I did it to draw his attention away from you."

As always, The Mentor was taking care of me.

The Little Voice said, "Gimme a break."

"Silence!" I commanded.

I thought it was a little odd when The Mentor publically praised The Man in front of all "my people" the very next day, but....

Oh well, enough of that!....

Let's move on.

One day I came up with what I believed was a great product idea.  I sent it to The Mentor.  He loved it!  He said, "You've got the name, and you've got the marketing angle.  You're more than halfway there!"

The Mentor said there were two options:.... He would write up a complete marketing plan and show me, step-by-step, how to launch the product myself, or he would launch it for me:  "If I launch it for you, it won't cost you a dime."

Well, I didn't have a dime.... so guess which option I chose.

The Mentor was excited.  He immediately began contacting suppliers and researching the industry.  He "drafted a preliminary campaign."

Things were moving right along.  The Mentor said we would be testing the initial product using my own name -- (and an exciting name it is, too!)....   (Huh??) .... and we would not use "the real name" until it was "fully protected," which could take some time.


Why would anyone test a product without its ONLY two selling points?  The ONLY thing that sets it apart from a hundred others on the shelf??  Why not wait until the name is fully protected and then test??

I was starting to panic.

I wrote The Mentor.  I told him I wasn't comfortable with this.  Although I trusted him implicitly and would defer to his better judgment, I needed to have this latest plan explained to me.  (I was also a little concerned about launching this joint venture with nothing more than a handshake; I felt we needed to iron out some details and put it in writing.)  I told The Mentor that I understood completely about his not wanting to give me his phone number.  (This IS cyberspace, you know.)  So I gave him mine and asked him to call me at his convenience.

The Mentor's response?

"We'll put it on a back burner."

The Little Voice said patiently, "I don't think a phone number.... "

I screeched, "I've about had it with you!"

I told The Mentor I didn't want my project on "a back burner."  I had decided to launch it myself.

I knew I stood a good chance of landing face-down in the dirt again, but I was willing to risk it.

About the time I started questioning The Mentor's business plan, things started getting personal.  It seemed The Mentor was enthralled with me.  I was very uncomfortable with that, and I backed off.  So The Mentor started singing my praises on my bulletin board.  I got e-mails.  People were getting the wrong impression, and I was squirming.

But through it all, I knew The Mentor had wonderful advice to offer all of us.  He could give us the help that no one else could.  There was no profit in what he did.... just the satisfaction of sharing his experience.

The Mentor had absolutely nothing whatsoever to gain by sucking up to me.

And that was when The Mentor opened his new web site.

Its mission?

To help fledgling entrepreneurs grow their businesses.  To share knowledge.  To teach.  To guide.  And to nurture.  In fact, there was even talk of giving "cash grants to as many graduates as possible" to help them get started!

I had brought these people to this place.  What right did I have to burst the bubble?

What kind of ungrateful pig would question a man like this?

I felt like pond scum!

The Little Voice was getting snotty: "Lesley Pond Scum.  It has a nice ring to it."

I'm not sure why.... maybe it was because I wasn't used to The Little Voice using that tone with me.... but I started taking stock of things.

The Mentor had a very successful mail-order product.  He sent me a copy.  In the back was an offer for another product.... one he would have had to order through me, since he was my subdealer in Company #1.  Not one order.


So many inquiries and requests for catalogs with Company #2, and I knew The Mentor was investing lots of time in the follow-up.... after all, he had liquidated part of his organization so he could, remember?  Not one order.


Every time I questioned The Mentor, he bolted.  Every time I suggested that we discuss something by phone, he bolted.  Every time I suggested we iron out the details, he bolted.


The Mentor was having personal problems which required his full attention.  That was the only reason he had to put my project on the back burner.  I understood and was content to wait.  But he seemed to be devoting huge amounts of time to his web site.  Wonderful new material appeared every couple of days.  Very time-consuming stuff.


Nearly the entire membership on the new web site came from my bulletin board -- at last count, about 63 out of 69 people.  But The Mentor was well known and highly respected.  Why weren't people coming from far and wide?


I was a contributor at the new web site, and I asked if I could put up a link to my scam site.  The Mentor laughed and said, "Of course you can!  You can do anything you want!  You are the inspiration for the site, Sweet Lady!  Its main purpose is to promote YOU!!"


When I took "my project" back and asked The Mentor if I could have the names of the suppliers he had contacted, he didn't have them.  He had an entire campaign penciled out.... but he did not offer it to me.


The Man broke into my bulletin board.  He claimed he "hacked in," but I knew better.  I wrote The Mentor and asked if he had any idea how The Man got in.  He gave me a password that The Man had given him.  I blocked The Man.  I wondered why The Mentor had not come to me right away.  He said it was because he didn't know if the password was real.


A long-time member of our "bulletin board family".... a man who works long hours to support his children and is struggling to make ends meet.... desperately wanted to become a dealer with Company #2.  It costs less than $100, and he hadn't been able to save up enough money.  The Mentor tried to "slip him in the back door" so he wouldn't have to pay the fee.  I know this man.  He would not have wanted that (not to mention the fact that it would have ruined his chances of ever becoming a dealer through the front door).  If I had the money, I would gladly have paid his fee.  (And don't forget The Grateful Stranger.)


And the catalog.  It never came out.  We were all being mailed checking copies.... but they never arrived.  People were getting antsy.  E-mails.  I got E-mails!  My canned reply?  "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."  There were problems with the printer.  Problems with the mailing house.  Problems with the Post Office.  But this wasn't a new idea.... and with The Mentor's vast experience and a full print shop right on the premises, how could everything go so wrong?


The Little Voice said, "Thank goodness you're finally coming to your senses!"

I said, "What are you talking about?"

Yes.... I took stock. 

Yes.... there were lots of questions and some unfortunate coincidences, but that's all they were. Coincidences. 

Because, you see, The Mentor had nothing to gain from me.  His advice was free, and he asked nothing in return. 

The Little Voice yelled, "You're being used!"

I said, "For what? You make no sense."

Then one day, The Mentor told us all about an ingenious new business idea he came up with.  He didn't devise the plan for himself but to help someone in need.... a man who was about to lose his land.

My faith was renewed!

The plan involved prizes.  Someone asked what The Lucky Landowner was using as prizes.  It seems The Mentor was generously allowing him to buy products from Company #1.... at DEALER prices.

Notice I said DEALER prices.... not SUBdealer prices.

The game plan had changed.

How long ago?

Only The Mentor knew for sure, but I had to assume it had been a good long while, since not one order had ever come through me.

Now I don't happen to believe the world owes me a living.... and I certainly don't believe that the Mentor owed me anything.  It was in his own best interest to become a dealer, and it is what he should have done in the first place.

But I do believe The Mentor owed me one thing:....


The Little Voice said, "I think you're catching on."

I felt like I'd been kicked.

It left me reeling.

Now I was all ears, but The Little Voice wasn't talking.  I went over it and over it in my head.  I struggled with it day and night. 

Okay, so what if I had a following, like The Little Voice said?

What if The Mentor wanted "my people" for "his people" and he used me to get them, like The Little Voice said?

The Mentor's web site was open to everyone.  He gave great advice.... and his advice was free.  There was absolutely nothing for The Mentor to gain....

No motive....

And that was the missing link.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One blustery day
in a Neighboring Kingdom ....

(you see, The Mentor had set up housekeeping on a different bulletin board when I started getting feisty.... )

It was announced that The Mentor's company would be wholesaling products to its members, which they would drop ship for no extra charge.  And nice imprinted goodies to promote the site.  A complete package just for members.... with full support, hot products, tips on where to advertise, and plenty of hand-holding.

A wonderful opportunity for members to launch their businesses risk free!

A solid plan.

Flawlessly executed.

And a perfectly legitimate way for The Mentor to turn a profit. 

The Little Voice said:  "The motive."

I whispered, "Oh."

But it really was my lucky day after all, because The Little Voice was just too pooped to say....

"I told you so."

Take me back to the Scams 101 Index!

MaaMaw here!     

For a year and a half, I tried everything I knew to make money on the internet.  Nice store, good products, great prices!  I worked my hiney off... and I could count my sales on one set of toes.

In 1998, I stumbled on Corey Rudl's MAGNIFICENT internet marketing course, and I've made between $350 and $3,000 every single month since then.  Rich?  Nope... but I was able to dump the business that ruined my life for 25 years, and that's good enough for me.

                                                                                        Here's how I turned things around . . . . .

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PROTECT YOURSELF FROM SCAMS!  Research all business opportunities thoroughly, and never blow off other people's bad experiences.  Ask around (and listen!).  The Scams101 Message Board is a good place to start.  What's that?  You've found a Biz Op and you're wondering if it's endorsed by FIB?...  Not unless it's listed in MaaMaw's Magnificent Toolbox.

Me & Katie

  Lesley Fountain                          Click Here to Send an Email
  P. O. Box 542                                  Phone:  (707) 682-0303
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Copyright 1998-2007 by Lesley Fountain.  All Rights Reserved.
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