The Federal Trade Commission has charged Russell Dalbey, the CEO and founder of the company behind the “wealth-building” program “Winning in the Cash Flow Business,” with defrauding consumers, in some cases out of thousands of dollars, with phony claims that they could make large amounts of money quickly and easily by finding, brokering, and earning commissions on seller-financed promissory notes.
The FTC’s complaint against Dalbey and others involved in marketing the program, filed jointly with Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers, alleges that the defendants misled consumers about how much money they could make using the program and how quickly and easily they could make it.
“‘Winning in the Cash Flow Business’ was a real loser for hundreds of thousands of consumers nationwide,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When someone is selling a program designed to help people make money, they have to accurately describe how much consumers can expect to make and be truthful about how quickly they will be able to do so. None of that happened in this case, and people who bought the program paid the price.”
Millions of consumers nationwide saw infomercials for the “Winning in the Cash Flow Business” program, which were hosted by TV personality Gary Collins. The program supposedly teaches consumers how to find, broker, and earn commissions on seller-financed promissory notes – privately held mortgages or notes that are often secured by the home or land that is the subject of the loan.
The FTC complaint alleges that consumers spent approximately $40 to $160 on the initial program, and were later encouraged to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars more on additional products or services, such as multi-day seminars, coaching sessions, and promissory note holder lead lists. Few of these consumers made the money that Dalbey promised them. The FTC and the State of Colorado seek a court order to stop Dalbey, his wife, and the corporate entities they control from making the allegedly misleading claims, and to obtain money for consumer refunds.
According to the complaint, since at least 1996, Dalbey has used various corporate entities to market his program. Beginning as early as 2002, he has done so mainly through a 30-minute infomercial. Along with pitches on the Internet and through direct mail, the infomercial claimed that consumers could successfully earn substantial income brokering promissory notes in three easy steps – “Find ‘Em,” “List ‘Em,” and “Make Money.”
“[Y]ou’ll be amazed at just how easy it is to generate a stream of extra income every month. Build financial freedom and a better quality of life in just minutes a day. Or even retire earlier than you ever dreamed possible. Order now and you’ll be ready to profit in minutes,” an infomercial allegedly claimed.
These claims allegedly were supported by “testimonials” from consumers who claimed to have made “$1.2 million in 30 days,” “$79,000 in a few hours,” and “$262,216 part time,” for example. “In less than 30 days, I closed two transactions and I netted 1 point – a little bit over $1.2 million,” a testimonial by “Don B.” from New York stated.
Unfortunately, according to the FTC and Colorado Attorney General, this was far from the typical consumer experience. The complaint charges that Dalbey and the other defendants violated the FTC Act and Colorado law by making false and unsubstantiated claims that consumers are likely to quickly and easily find, list, and broker promissory notes and earn substantial amounts of money; and that defendants’ additional products and services, such as coaching programs, workshops, seminars, note holder leads, and other resources, will meaningfully increase the likelihood that consumers will succeed in the note business.
The complaint also alleges that while Dalbey claimed he has earned substantial money finding, listing, and brokering promissory notes himself, most of his note-related income for the past two decades has come from marketing and selling products and services supposedly to teach consumers how to find and broker such notes. In addition, the complaint alleges that consumer testimonials in the defendants’ advertising are inaccurate and do not reflect the results that customers are likely to achieve if they buy the program. For example, some testimonialists, the complaint charges, stated earnings claims that were total earnings figures accumulated over several years, rather than in one year.
The complaint also charges the defendants with violating the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by making similar misrepresentations to consumers during sales calls.
Finally, the FTC and Colorado Attorney General charged Marsha Kellogg – one of the consumers who provided a testimonial in an infomercial – with falsely claiming that she earned $79,975.01 from one promissory note transaction using Dalbey’s program, and that her total earnings were more than $134,000. The complaint alleges that Kellogg made this statement even though she earned $50,000 less than what she claimed.
Kellogg has agreed to an order settling the FTC charges against her. The order is the FTC’s first against a consumer charged with making misrepresentations in a product or service testimonial. It prohibits Kellogg from making several types of misrepresentations in the future. In addition, Kellogg has agreed to cooperate with law enforcers in their case against the remaining defendants.
The Commission voted 5-0 to authorize the staff to file the complaint and to approve the order settling the charges against Kellogg. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on May 23, 2011, and names Russell T. Dalbey; DEI, LLLP; Dalbey Education Institute, LLC; IPME, LLLP; Catherine L. Dalbey; and Marsha Kellogg.
Information for consumers about how to spot and avoid investment fraud, “get-rich-quick” schemes, and other types of wealth-building scams can be found here, on the FTC’s “Money Matters” website.
UPDATE: In October, the Court entered a stipulated order for preliminary injunction that prohibits Russell Dalbey from making certain claims the plaintiffs allege are misleading. This order will be in effect during the remainder of the litigation. For more information, refer to the order or the press release issued by the Colorado Attorney General.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court. A consent judgement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendant that the law has been violated. Consent judgments have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.(FTC File No. 092-3062, Civ. No. 1:11-cv-01396-CMA –KLM)
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