• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Chamber director notes ad scam

Woodford Chamber of Commerce CEO Don Vizi wants chamber members and others to know he’s not selling ads for a new chamber-sponsored map.

Vizi said at the monthly Business After Hours meeting Wednesday, June 15, several chamber members told him they’d been called by a woman who called herself Sylvia and was not only pushy, but also knew the names of people who worked there.

“‘I want to talk to this person. I want to talk to them now,’” Vizi said he was told about Sylvia. “I mean, very very rude and wouldn’t get off the phone. And then one of the other members said that this lady called the receptionist and the receptionist turned it over to the co-owner and (the co-owner) asked her, ‘What are you selling?’ and she said, ‘Well, maps for the chamber. And you advertised last year for $600.’”

Vizi said the co-owner asked Sylvia who gave her permission to put out the map and solicit ads.

“Well, the chamber did,” Sylvia told her.

Vizi said the co-owner asked Sylvia if she knew Vizi, to which she said no.

The co-owner then said, “Well, send me a proof (of last year’s ad),” to which Sylvia responded, “Well, I can’t send you a proof because it was a year ago.”

That evening, Vizi emailed chamber members letting them know of a possible scam and reminding them that the chamber’s annual map, for which ads are solicited, comes out at the beginning of the year.

Vizi walked down the street the following day to speak to Woodford Sheriff Wayne Wright, who’d gotten a similar call, apparently from the same woman.

Wright picked up the phone himself that day and was asked, “Is the sheriff in?”

Wright said, “Well, you’re speaking to him. And she went into this spiel about maps.’”

Wright said he doesn’t recall the woman’s name, but she didn’t say she was contacting him on behalf of the chamber, but rather that she knew his department had distributed a map in the past.

Wright said the only map he recalled was one he thought was distributed by former Woodford County Clerk Judie Woolums a few years ago.

He told the caller that if she was putting free maps out, he’d be happy to keep a stack at the sheriff’s department. When she quoted a $400 price for advertising, he told her he wasn’t interested.

Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance representative Courtney Roberts said he’d gotten a call from Sylvia – who said she was representing the sheriff’s department – a week before Wright did.

Roberts told The Sun that he had been a sponsor for a map by the sheriff’s department, but when told by Sylvia, “Well, we need you to commit right now,” responded that he needed to see a fax or email first. He didn’t receive either.

“Just someone else trying to hoodoo the public,” Roberts said of Sylvia.

Roberts told Wright about the call, and when Vizi and Wright discussed the matter, the sheriff used a program to look up the billing address of a phone number for Sylvia given to Vizi by a chamber member.

Wright said 22 people were connected with that number – and the search revealed pictures of some of them.

“I said, ‘That’s not a driving license picture. That’s a booking photo picture.’ So, I’m not going to say that people that have a criminal conviction can’t solicit ads, but I said, ‘That is what you might be dealing with is these people … might have some questionable character.’”

An employee of the Woodford County Library told Vizi she’d been contacted repeatedly by Sylvia, who gave her an 800 number. The Sun called and left a message for Sylvia, but the call wasn’t returned.

A check on the Better Business Bureau’s website revealed that Hometown Productions is apparently one of many businesses operated by Universal Adcom of Arlington, Texas. The BBB reports 178 complaints against the company.

“Complaints allege the company billed for orders not placed; misrepresented its affiliation with a school, chamber of commerce, or other civic organizations; made harassing and deceptive sales calls; non-receipt of product and poor quality product; and refusal to remove from calling lists,” according to the website. “It should be mentioned that the majority of complaints to the BBB report multiple complaint issues. For example, a customer may complain they received a bill for an order not placed, the product received was poor quality, and the business refuses to remove them from the solicitation call list.”

Wright said when he solicits funds for a Boys and Girls Ranch fundraiser or his department’s annual calendar, he calls or ensures his solicitors have a letter from him including contact information.

Heather Clary of the Better Business Bureau’s Lexington office cautioned that scam artists will sometimes ask business operators or employees to renew a contract that never existed.

“Of course, people should realize they do not have to pay for anything they did not order,” Clary added.

Wright said business operators should remember the phrase “Buyer Beware.”

“If you want to throw $400 and get your name advertised, then go ahead, but I can’t guarantee that we’re going to see maps with your name on them,” Wright said.

Vizi said until someone pays for a service not rendered, Sylvia and company might be able to claim that they’re not ripping off anyone. Still …

“The scam is they’re going out and saying they’re representing the chamber …” Vizi said.

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