WWEJSS: How does a fake recruiting firm get a credit card merchant account?

WWEJSS, LLC — a.k.a. SevenFigureCareers — is a “recruiting” company that does not legally exist, yet major credit card companies have authorized merchant accounts that it uses to fraudulently collect fees for services it never delivers, while it silences its victims with a confidentiality agreement that’s fake, too.

WWEJSSA credit card scam

In a series of recent articles, readers shared their experiences with phony recruiters at SevenFigureCareers (a.k.a. 7F, 7figcareers, and loads of other names) who scammed job seekers out of loads of money:

But, how does a racket like SevenFigureCareers get a merchant account to collect fees via American Express, MasterCard and VISA — then win disputes when victims complain about being scammed?

By getting victims to sign a contract.

To defend against claims of fraudulent credit card charges, 7F tells credit card companies that its “customer” signed a contract and that 7F delivered what it promised under the contract — hence, no refund is due.

One victim, John Rice (not his real name), told me that AmEx said it was a contractual problem between him and 7F because 7F reported it had fulfilled its obligations. AmEx suggested he hire a lawyer after AmEx rejected four requests for a refund.

After reports detailing the scam appeared on this website, AmEx eventually refunded Rice and other cardholders thousands in fees collected by 7F, and cancelled 7F’s merchant account. But it seems that AmEx issued that merchant account without confirming whether 7F is a legal entity. AmEx declined to explain exactly how it vets merchants before signing them up. AmEx also won’t disclose what problems it found with 7F after a phony lawyer threatened a user of this website who spoke up about getting scammed.

The SevenFigureCareers contract is a fraud

Two real lawyers reviewed the 7F contract for Ask The Headhunter. One of them explained the problem:

“A contract is between two parties. If there are not two parties, then there is no contract. This contract is invalid because there’s only one party — the victim.”

When high-salary executives don’t recognize that an agreement they’re signing is invalid, then everyone needs to learn the basics.

Read the contract

Let’s start with the SevenFigureCareers contract. Several victims provided me with copies. Each seems to be coded with an ID at the upper left, to identify the victim. I’ve redacted that.

Here’s why the contract is a fraud, and why AmEx — and MasterCard and VISA — should never have issued merchant accounts to SevenFigureCareers.

7f-contract-1

Although it calls itself by many names, SevenFigureCareers does business under a name its victims don’t see until they receive a contract: WWEJSS, LLC. But this “Texas corporation” does not exist. Thus, there is no contract.

Did credit card companies get scammed, too?

So, how does a fake company collect payments through real credit card accounts? Why would credit card companies with anti-fraud departments authorize merchant accounts for crooks? Good questions, for which we have no answers. And that means you should never assume that paying with a credit card protects you from fraudulent vendors.

Did these credit card companies get scammed, too? How? Will they ever admit it?

Tip: If you have concerns about a company you’re about to contract with, investigate the entity. If SevenFigureCareers’s victims had done due diligence, they’d never have gotten suckered. They never would have paid — even with a credit card. John Rice, a seasoned executive, has said to me several times, “I was such a dumb shit.” Yes, he knew better — but he suspended his concerns because he figured American Express would protect him from losses. American Express, however, apparently didn’t take reasonable precautions to protect Rice from this phony merchant.

Caveat emptor really does mean that due diligence is always your responsibility.

WWEJSS, LLC is a fraud

American Express credit card charges from SevenFigureCareers appear as WWEJSS, LLC or WWJESS, LLC on victims’ statements.

After doing some basic research, one victim learned the company is not licensed in Texas and confronted 7F recruiter “Tony French.” French replied in an e-mail that SevenFigureCareers doesn’t have to be licensed, but that it is registered in Texas under “WWEJSS, LLC.”

7f-e-mail-1

On September 29, I contacted the office of the Texas Secretary of State. Victoria, a helpful employee, told me that, “If it’s a legal entity, like a Texas corporation or LLC or limited partnership, it has to be registered with the State, even if it only does e-commerce.”

She then looked up WWEJSS, LLC and WWJESS, LLC, “a Texas corporation,” in the Texas registry.

“There is no WWEJSS or WWJESS registered,” Victoria reported.

That makes Tony French a liar and his “company” illegal.

7f-whitetailsHunting… scammers, or deer?

Nor is there a registration for SevenFigureCareers, Seven Figure Careers, 7Figures, or any other such name. (In 1993, “Seven Figure, Inc.” was registered to Carl Poston, but that expired in 1996.)

There is, however, a registration for 7F, Inc. — to Gary Benbow in Yoakum, Texas. I spoke with Gary, who runs the respected 7F Whitetails Ranch. The 7F comes from an old cattle brand that’s been in his family for generations. He’s never heard of SevenFigureCareers. Gary’s not in the recruiting business. His family raises cattle and offers trophy deer hunting on the property. And he’s not happy about scammers tarnishing his registered brand.

Targeting the credit card companies

American Express and other credit card companies have permitted an unregistered legal entity to collect payments with their credit cards even after the victims gave notice that this merchant is a fraud. Apparently, AmEx failed to do the simplest due diligence. (When I asked, AmEx would not disclose exactly how it vets its merchants.) Then AmEx rejected requests for refunds out of hand, relying on what we now know is an invalid contract used by a fake company operating illegally in Texas.

These credit card companies have put a target on their own backs that says “Fraud.” I didn’t ask Gary Benbow whether he takes credit cards. But I’m sure he’d love to find the guys who call themselves 7F.

As of the date of this column, Texas Company Search lists no registrations for any of the SevenFigureCareers legal entities — least of all WWEJSS, LLC, the name listed on its contracts.

WWEJSS: How it silences its victims

It seems clear that WWEJSS has flourished because it keeps its victims quiet.

After John Rice’s credit card dispute was rejected, he posted about the scam on this website. Within minutes, SevenFigures silenced Rice with an e-mail. A phony lawyer “representing” SevenFigures threatened him with a contractual penalty of $25,000 if he didn’t remove what he posted. It was actually that threat that publicly unraveled the entire SevenFigureCareers scam.

What scared Rice and other victims into silence is an intimidating non-disclosure clause (or NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement) in the contract — “Mutual Confidentiality Regarding ENTIRE AGREEMENT and your Search.”

The NDA threat

We’ll forget for a minute that the entire contract is invalid because WWEJSS doesn’t exist. Let’s take a look at what these people agreed to — and at what a lawyer says about it.

7f-contract-2

This clause essentially says that the signer can’t reveal anything about their experience with 7F, or comment about it anywhere to anyone. Victims I interviewed were convinced that, even if they knew they’d been scammed, they’d have to pay 7F $25,000 if they told anyone.

But, this section of the contract by itself wouldn’t stand up in court, say two attorneys who reviewed it. That is, it seems there is no danger to SevenFigures’ victims if they tell all to the world. (Note: The opinions of the lawyers I spoke with are not legal advice. If you have a specific contractual controversy, you need to get advice from a lawyer about your specific problem.)

Phony Lawyering: liquidated damages & penalties

It’s worth understanding a legal concept that’s key to many contracts. The idea is pretty simple. If we bind ourselves with a contract, and I do something that violates our contract, I will cause you damage, and I must reimburse you for that damage.

But, how much could the damages be worth? The law acknowledges this can be hard to calculate. Here’s how one lawyer explains it:

In situations where it’s not practical or maybe possible to come up with an actual number, in a contract parties can “pre-decide” what the damages will be (called liquidated damages), but there has to be a reasonable relation to the actual harm caused. It can’t just be some outlandish number like a bazillion dollars because then that would be more like a “penalty” and less like compensation for actual damages received.

If a court (judge) feels like the amount pre-decided (the liquidated damages) is actually a penalty then they may decide to throw out that figure. That is why lawyers go to great lengths when using a liquidated damages clause to make it seem as far from a penalty as possible, starting with not calling it a penalty!

7f-contract-3In this lawyer’s opinion, the fact that the contract calls the payment a “penalty” would probably invalidate any damages claim. What this — along with the other sloppy wording and writing in this “contract” — tells us is that a lawyer didn’t write it.

My guess is it was written by the same putz who impersonated a lawyer — illegal in all 50 states — in the e-mail threatening John Rice.

This is how 7F silences its victims, using an unenforceable confidentiality agreement in a fraudulent contract to intimidate them into keeping their mouths shut. They naturally worry that speaking up would cost them $25,000 for violating confidentiality. But liquidated damages normally can’t be a penalty — only compensation for damage.

Go suck rocks.

All that Tony French’s victims have to do is tell him to go suck rocks when he threatens them. And that’s why we’re having this brief legal lesson, courtesy of two friendly lawyers who hate scammers.

(We won’t get into it here, but SevenFigureCareers violated its own NDA when Tony French shared confidential communications from his private equity “clients” with the candidates he was supposedly recruiting. Except those PE clients don’t exist — so where’s the harm?)

Who should sue whom?

Well, it seems Mr. French might be doing more than sucking on rocks soon.

I asked Lawrence Barty, a retired attorney who has specialized in employment and labor law, for his views on this case. He suggests the SevenFigureCareers victims may have grounds to sue whoever is behind this phony recruiting firm. Even though SevenFigureCareers doesn’t legally exist, someone convinced the victims that the firm does exist and that the contract is real. And that person faces trouble.

The persuasion of this “person” led you into a situation in which you lost money. If you have a legal claim, it can’t be against an entity that doesn’t exist — right? So who can you sue?

If you can identify the person who perpetrated this fraud, a tort claim of fraudulent inducement might be possible (as always, State laws vary) against that person — not against the illusory 7F. You were induced by X (identity presently unknown) to enter into a contract that cost you money, but was known in advance by X to be worthless. So, you should sue X, the person who tricked you into entering that contract. A claim of that type can be a tort claim, possibly giving rise to compensatory and punitive damages.

Ah. Now we get to penalties. Not just compensatory damages, but punitive damages. Except now the penalty is against the scammer.

This is tricky stuff — maybe more than your readers need to know. The threshold issue is to identify and locate who is behind 7F. You can’t sue someone whom you can’t identify. And, because he is a crook by any definition, he therefore is likely to be a very, very elusive target.

Yah — like a deer on Gary Benbow’s ranch.

What’s next?

Since this series about SevenFigureCareers.com was published, the “firm’s” website has gone dark. Many of the associated phony websites of phony private equity and venture capital firms have disappeared. But SevenFigureCareers continues to operate and collect fees, with a web presence on Manta, a business web-hosting service. It’s newest customers have been in touch with Ask The Headhunter — after they lost their money.

Where is the crook? Has American Express found him?

How does someone running a fake company get merchant accounts with American Express, VISA and MasterCard? What basic controls against fraud do these credit card companies have in place? I mean — how hard is it to look up a corporation’s or LLC’s credentials? A dog with a note in its mouth can do it.

In the next edition, we’ll go down to the bottom of this wormhole: Who’s behind the SevenFigureCareers recruiting scam?

Are you one of the victims scammed by SevenFigureCareers? Or did you see the scam coming and walk the other way? How would you avoid getting fleeced by a “career service?” What due diligence do you do?

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Two weeks’ notice cost me two weeks’ pay!

In the November 1, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader tries to do the right thing by giving two weeks’ notice and loses two weeks’ pay.

Question

get-outI have a new job, so I gave my two weeks’ notice to my employer. But my boss let me go the same day! He said, “I accept your resignation. And you’re gone immediately.”

I needed at least another week of work because I can’t afford two weeks off between jobs. Now I’m screwed. They gave me three hours that day and told me to leave. I’ve always given at least two weeks’ notice to be fair to my employer. Is it right that they did this to me after I did the right thing for them?

Nick’s Reply

Unfortunately, it’s not a question of right. For the employer, it’s a judgment call.

Here’s what your boss may be thinking:

  • Are you a liability or risk if you stay on another two weeks? In other words, will you be distracted and do lower-quality work?
  • Are you likely to “poison the well” and encourage other employees to think about leaving?
  • Or, is the manager just angry? Does he resent your “disloyalty” because you quit? Quitting a job doesn’t make one disloyal, but your manager’s ego might have gotten the best of him and caused trouble for you.

You never know how an employer is going to react. For some tips from my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job, check this article: Protect Your Job – Don’t give notice when accepting a new job.

I think an employer is a dope to not take advantage of two weeks’ notice to help transition your work to another employee. But once you resign, your employer is not obligated to keep you on. There may even be a company policy about not letting employees who resign stick around.

While it’s a good thing to do right by your employer, this is why I tell people to consider their own interests first when quitting a job. If you think it’s risky, don’t give notice. This is just one issue when leaving a job. In the aforementioned book, I cover loads of other issues people never think about, including:

  • What you can and can’t take with you when you leave
  • Non-Disclosure Agreements and Non-Compete Agreements
  • Legal liability
  • What to say and what not to say in a resignation letter or during an exit interview
  • How to submit your resignation to protect yourself
  • How to plan your departure
  • There’s even a checklist shared by my insider HR friends

Two weeks’ notice used to be a standard courtesy. Although some employers still expect it, in some places it’s a risk to offer it. People like you try to act ethically and with integrity, but leaving a job is a business and financial decision that nowadays is handled coldly by many companies. While I don’t advocate quitting without notice, I suggest that people get their ducks all in a row before they walk in to resign a job. Plan for the worst.

This article may be helpful as you consider any new job offer: Protect yourself from exploding job offers.

Sorry to hear you got hurt in the process. But congratulations on landing a new job!

Have you ever gotten burned for giving two weeks’ notice when quitting a job? If you’re a manager, would you walk an employee who quits out the door, or do you want the notice period?

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Job promotion or more work for less pay?

In the October 18, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, two readers try to avoid getting suckered into a job promotion that’s really two jobs for one salary.

Question #1

My boss has asked me to take over someone else’s role on top of my own. The company was paying the other person to do the other job that I’d be adding to my own work. What percentage salary increase should I be given to take on the second job?

Question #2

job promotionHR came to me and discussed an opportunity that I might be interested in. However, instead of hiring someone else, HR proposed to my boss that he offer me this position while I keep my current position. It’s basically a dual role — two jobs.

The salary increase is only about $200/month. It’s very low considering I’d be saving the company a lot of money if they don’t have to hire another person. I told my boss I’m not happy with the salary bump and explained to him why. He seemed open to reviewing the salary depending on what HR comes up with.

Well, my current role does not compare with any job titles in the salary survey our HR manager uses. She compared my position to job titles that aren’t my job. So it makes no sense how she came up with the proposed salary increase. In any case, the additional role will require about 3-5 hours a week. The salary bump covers about 1.5 hours of additional time per week.

How do I negotiate this with my boss? HR’s inaccurate information shows my salary is already high compared to the salary survey, and to what everyone else makes in the organization.

Nick’s Reply

I could hand you a hundred bucks, smile and tell you I just gave you an opportunity to make more money. And it would be true, and a hundred extra bucks is a good thing, but is that a negotiation?

You’d ask me what I want you to do for the hundred bucks, and that would be the start of a negotiation. But a good, honest negotiation requires more.

When a labor union and management are working out a new contract, they do “fact finding.” When two parties discuss doing a deal, they produce a “term sheet.” Those are two ways of saying you’re putting the facts on the table. The reason these two readers are confused and at a loss is because HR has given them no facts.

Is this a real job promotion?

So my advice to both readers is, get the facts on the table. HR would rather talk about “an opportunity” and “more money,” but what HR started with is three facts you don’t have but need:

  • 2 job titles
  • 2 job descriptions
  • 2 salaries

I’d leave your boss out of this, for now. Go to the HR manager. Find out whether this is a real job promotion or just more work for less pay.

salariesHow to Say It

“Thanks for this opportunity. I’d like to make sure I understand it. May I please have copies of my formal job description and the written description of the job you’d like to add to mine, along with the actual titles of both jobs? I know what my salary is, but I need to know the salary of the other job. Then I can consider the work you need me to do and what it’s worth.” 

What you’re really saying to HR is, I expect you to do your job. We all know what job titles and job descriptions are. Now you need to see them, and that’s HR’s job. Because, when did you ever take a job without a title or description — or without knowing the salary? That’s why you’re confused and at a loss — it’s understandable. (See Roasting the job description.)

Don’t be a sucker

There’s a special term for giving you a second job without paying two salaries. That’s not a job promotion. The employer is suckering you.

A raise is a good thing, even if you have to do more work to get it. Usually, that’s called a promotion. (See Promotion, raise, bad vibes… How to Say It.) What both these stories have in common is employers that want to save lots of money — an entire salary in each case — while sharing only part of the savings with the sucker who will have to do all the extra work. And we don’t even know exactly what work.

In a well-run company, HR would combine two jobs, create a new job title, define new objectives and performance criteria, assign an appropriate salary, and put all that in writing. Only then would HR approach an existing employee and offer the newly defined job promotion with a higher salary.

But this isn’t about offering an employee more money to do more work. In these two cases, this is about duping an employee into doing two jobs without paying two salaries.

Don’t be a sucker. The only way to negotiate combining two jobs is to know exactly what’s required of both jobs, and exactly how much each job is worth before they are combined. There: Feel better?

Assess the risk

I always tell you never to take anyone’s advice about your career choices — including mine. Consider the advice, apply your best judgment, and make a sound decision. As in all things, assess the risk. Your first concern should be whether your employer will fire you if you decline the added work — or label you “Not A Team Player” and fire you later if you don’t play along with this HR game. And it is an HR game: HR doesn’t want to do this properly.

Decide what kind of risk you are willing to take if you can’t get your employer to handle this to your satisfaction. Just be careful: If you agree to this without a fully defined new job description, there will be no defined metrics your boss can use to judge whether you’re doing what’s expected. That puts you in a precarious spot. (See Don’t suck canal water.) Likewise, you can’t negotiate a new salary without knowing both old salaries.

What I’d do is get the facts, so you and HR are starting at the same place. There’s nothing wrong with your employer trying to save money by combining jobs. What’s wrong is lazy HR departments skipping the hard work of doing this right, in writing, and with full disclosure. Assuming you want the additional work and salary, tell your boss you’d love a job promotion.

How to Say It

“I think it’s best for our company, for you and for me if HR would define this as a new job, with a full description, a new salary, and clear metrics for success. And I think the best way to do this is for you — as the manager — and me and HR to meet to discuss how to define it all. I’d be happy to help!”

Don’t negotiate in a vacuum

It’s no accident in either case that HR and the boss are talking with you in isolation. They’re doing this in a vacuum to avoid discussion. I think your best negotiating position is at a table with both your boss and HR present.

I think your boss has to lead this effort, because HR has clearly shown it’s got no idea what you actually do and how it compares to jobs in the salary surveys. (By the way: I think salary surveys are useful generally speaking, but when used to assign a salary to a specific employee, they’re the pits! See Am I chasing the salary surveys?, and Beat The Salary Surveys: Get a higher job offer.)

For the reader in Question #1 who asks what percentage increase is appropriate, I don’t like to negotiate in percentages — and you should not negotiate in a vacuum, either. I think you have to sit down with your boss and HR to figure out how much more work you’d be doing, how much value you’d be adding, and how much your employer will be saving. There’s no way to just toss out a number — you must negotiate by discussing the newly defined job and salary. (For a complete approach to justifying a higher salary by using a business plan, see How Can I Change Careers?, pp. 8-12. This PDF book isn’t just for career changers; it’s for anyone who wants to stand out in a job negotiation.)

More gotchas

Both readers who submitted the above questions face an added dilemma. If the second job can be added to yours satisfactorily, then HR erred in creating the second job to begin with. Why was it separate? Don’t compound HR’s mistake by letting the HR manager sweep the second job under your job by calling it “a job promotion” without creating a new title, job description and salary. You need to know exactly what the second job was — you’ll be responsible for it! So get those documents I bulleted above.

The reader who asked Question #2 has an extra problem. Clearly, HR doesn’t understand the work you do, your job title, or your salary — none of it maps to information HR has on file. How can you negotiate adding an undefined second job to your job if HR doesn’t have the correct definition and salary for your existing job?

These are more gotchas that point to serious mismanagement of human resources at your companies. Don’t take the fall for HR’s failures.

If negotiations fail

If either of you is uncomfortable with taking on the extra work, or with how negotiations go, you can always decline “this opportunity” — and let your employer just re-fill the vacant job (or find another sucker).

Please keep in mind: If your employer is really determined to dupe you into doing more work with inadequate pay, the only exit from this quandary may be out the door to a new employer.

I’ll leave you with a joke. A person’s standing at a bar enjoying a drink. Up walks an attractive face — and says seductively, “For a hundred bucks, I’ll do anything you want.” The drinker smiles beguilingly and slaps a hundred dollar bill on the bar. “Paint my house.”

An extra hundred bucks isn’t always an opportunity.

Have you ever been faced with an “opportunity” that made you nervous because it was nebulous? Did you take it? Or what did you do? What additional tips and insights can you offer these two readers?

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American Express fires recruiting scam merchant “7F”

After realizing they’d been ripped off for thousands of dollars by phony recruiters when they used their American Express cards to pay for “services,” Cate Bruner and John Rice (not their real names) found an active discussion about SevenFigureCareers (a.k.a. 7F) on this website.

Rice learned the 7F lawyer who had threatened him into silence was bogus. Bruner learned the private equity partners she had interviewed with were frauds.

Other readers who had been solicited and scammed by 7F recruiters shared their experiences, as well as documents, phone numbers, voice mails and e-mails they’d saved. Crowd-sourced evidence was quickly gathered in the community and late last week American Express fired the recruiting scam merchant — SevenFigureCareers.

“We did our own research based on some of the things you highlighted,” said American Express spokesperson Ashley Tufts. “We have cancelled the merchant.”


UPDATE : Sometime today, Oct. 12, 2016, the SevenFigureCareers.com website went dark.
Readers have reported the firm is doing business on Facebook and at Manta:
https://www.facebook.com/ArthurFrench.SevenFiguresCareerS/
http://www.manta.com/c/mx6hngr/sevenfigurecareers


American Express fires SevenFigureCareers

When I contacted American Express, the credit card company immediately put its fraud team on the matter. Within a matter of days, it took action.

“We always want to do what’s best for our card members,” Tufts told me, “and one of our policies is that if it’s a fraudulent charge our card members aren’t liable for that.”

She could not comment on exactly what AmEx found when it researched SevenFigureCareers, but said, “We did determine that we wanted to cancel the relationship. They will no longer be able to accept American Express cards. They’re no longer a merchant.”

What to do if you got scammed by 7F

7F uses so many business names that I gave up trying to track them all down. Most are permutations and abbreviations of Seven, 7, figure, and careers. The scam usually starts with an e-mail from Tony French or Art French. For more details, see 7F: Anatomy of A Recruiting Scam.

“If a Card Member has questions about their purchases with this merchant, they should call the number on the back of their Card,” advised Tufts.

So how did 7F slip by?

amex-partner7F victim John Rice said he put aside his misgivings about signing a contract with 7F when he saw the big American Express Partner logo on 7F’s website: “It gave me the confidence to do business with them, because I figured I could get my money back if anything went wrong.” And boy, did it go wrong.

“They promised interviews for six- and seven-figure jobs,” said Rice, “but delivered short phone calls with illiterate phonies.”

Rice filed disputes with AmEx, but didn’t get anywhere. “They said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and I was out $2,500, but I learned a lesson.”

But it seems credit card fraud — whether it’s AmEx, VISA or MasterCard — usually pertains to unauthorized charges being made on your card, or to merchants not delivering what was promised. It seems the credit card companies have a harder time identifying phony merchants.

I asked American Express a few questions

1. How does AmEx verify that a merchant is legitimate before authorizing it to collect payments?

“We have a number of steps we go through when signing up a merchant to accept American Express, including reviewing both information provided by the merchant and information from external sources. We also require that merchants abide by applicable laws and regulations. After account set-up, we provide ongoing monitoring of merchant accounts.”

2. What is AmEx’s process for investigating and issuing refunds?

“Customers can contact us any time they have a concern about a charge on their American Express Card. Whether it’s a charge they don’t recognize, a service that wasn’t delivered by the merchant or any other reason for a billing inquiry, we are happy to investigate, taking into account both the Card Member and merchant perspectives.”

But giving up is not the answer if a credit card company rejects your dispute. It’s up to you to provide additional information — and that’s what happened here. Loads of people helped crowd-source evidence about SevenFigureCareers.

“We may investigate an inquiry further,” said Tufts, “if a Card Member or merchant provides new or additional information after we review the initial supporting documentation regarding a disputed charge. Based on the investigation, American Express will determine if the Card Member is eligible for a refund.”

3. Doesn’t this kind of thing hurt American Express’s reputation?

“American Express maintains the right to…terminate Card acceptance with merchants that may be harmful to our brand, are illegal or high-risk.”

I judge people and businesses by whether they deliver. American Express jumped on this when I brought it to their attention. Tufts did exactly what she said she’d do, and followed up with me several times by phone and e-mail, when she said she would.

I’ll be happy when I learn John Rice and Cate Bruner have gotten their $2,500 back. I’ll be impressed when I learn American Express has contacted all card holders who lost money to a merchant that AmEx now knows has been operating illegally and fleecing card holders. To me, that’s what brand means.

Will anyone get a refund?

American Express made it clear to me that’s between AmEx and its card holders. Tufts could not disclose to me whether refunds will be issued — the card holders will be contacted directly.

To avoid fraudulent transactions, consumers can visit AmEx’s Security Center to learn more about steps they can take to protect themselves from fraud. It seems we’re all a bit too trusting when we buy stuff — but there’s no assurance that using a credit card will protect you from phony vendors. So check the link and think!

Meanwhile, if you got scammed by SevenFigureCareers, don’t let it slide — this is your chance to try to get your money back again. If you succeed, please let me know.

7F vs. AmEx, MasterCard, VISA

7f-credit-cardsI asked Tufts whether, as a result of identifying a scammer merchant, American Express will notify MasterCard and VISA.

“Yes,” she wrote me. “We may report a business name and the name of their principals to the MATCH™ (Member Alert to Control High Risk Merchants) listing maintained by MasterCard.”

It’s ironic — I reported in another article that Art French touts 7F’s cool new technology of the same name!

“7F has developed an automated MATCH technology platform, a different approach to executive recruiting which gives us a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.”

It’s poetic justice: MATCH™ is being deployed against a phony MATCH. We’ll see which works better — the one that rips people off, or the one that stops fraud.

Company brand & community responsibility

Where does this episode end? With a few people getting their money back? With a phony merchant losing its ability to collect payments using credit card accounts?

If the merchant is operating illegally, this ends when the merchant gets hauled before the authorities, goes to court, is tried, fined and goes to jail. I believe that’s AmEx’s responsibility — and VISA’s and MasterCard’s — to the community it serves and does business with.

If all a credit card company does is cut off a crooked merchant’s account — that’s not responsible community  behavior. And it’s not a smart brand strategy.

Community responsibility means:

  • Taking legal action against scofflaws to protect the community and the company’s brand.
  • Notifying all AmEx card holders who’ve been scammed by SevenFigureCareers — whether last month, last year, or two or more years ago — that their money was taken illegally.
  • Using all legal means to get all victims their money back.

I realize AmEx can’t disclose its legal matters. But if the company files charges against SevenFigureCareers, that’s a matter of public record, so AmEx should make its actions public.

A company’s brand is defined by how it treats its community.

Only American Express has all the evidence and information necessary to prosecute SevenFigureCareers. Will it protect its brand by protecting its community?

How did we bust SevenFigureCareers?

It’s important to understand what kind of crowd-sourced information led to this consumer win. I’ll lay it out in the next Ask The Headhunter newsletter and here on the website: WWEJSS: How does a fake recruiting firm get a credit card merchant account?

Thanks to members of this community for looking out for one another, and thank you to American Express for its timely action.

Sign up for the newsletter if you don’t already get it — it’s free, it’s weekly, it arrives in your e-mail, and it’s loaded with answers to daunting job-search challenges real people face, in a Q&A format.

Then join us here for the post mortem to learn how to recognize recruiting and career scams — including funky contracts and con artists. There’s lots more to this story!

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7F: Anatomy of A Recruiting Scam

7f-logo-27F — it sounds cool, or it sounds foreboding. In Yoakum, Texas it’s a cattle brand used by a family ranch for generations. Here, it’s a recruiting scam that members of this community started chronicling in the comments section of this article. The logo at right belongs to a team of phony recruiters.

7F

7F is just one alias of a company also known as SevenFigureCareers, which we exposed for impersonating a lawyer and for practicing law without authorization when it threatened a user of this website (see SevenFigureCareers: Threats and fraud). My new ranching buddy in Texas — whose ranch is registered as 7F, Inc. with the State of Texas and which has nothing to do with the subject of this story — says his branding iron looks nothing like the 7F logo.

SevenFigureCareers

SevenFigureCareers recruiter Arthur French scheduled the phone interview for John Rice with Mark Allen, Managing Partner at Agile Capital Partners, a private equity (PE) and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) firm.

Agile wanted to hire an executive for one of its start-up companies.

Rice, a former executive at a Fortune 50 company and founder of several companies himself, says the job interview started like this:

John Rice: “What firm did you say you were with?”

7f-agile-u-find-itMark Allen: “Agile.”

JR: “Who?”

MA: “Agile!”

JR: “Spell that.”

MA (irritated): “A-G-L-I-E!”

JR: “What?”

MA (angry): “I told you, A-G-L-I-E!”

“He kept misspelling it,” Rice told me. “Halfway through the interview, it just sounded fraudulent so I said I’d rather terminate this.”

A few minutes later, recruiter Art French called and screamed at Rice that he was out of line with Allen. Rice hung up the phone and called American Express to stop payment on the $2,500 he had paid French to deliver “seven-figure job opportunities.”

Rice didn’t know that the guy who interviewed him — Mark Allen — doesn’t exist.

SevenFigureCareerS

Depending on where you look, SevenFigureCareers’ name varies. It ends with a capital S in a PR Newswire press release: “SevenFigureCareerS.com Candidates Have Been Offered 33 Positions – Still Seeking 40 Executives for Portfolio Company Positions Owned by Private Equity.” The company’s name also surfaces on its contracts as 7FigureS, 7F, 7FIGureS, 7F.7Figcareers — and more permutations than I’ve bothered to count.

Just what is SevenFigureCareers? According to the press release:

With over 14 years of experience providing highly-qualified executive candidates to the private equity and venture capital communities in the United States and internationally, SevenFigureCareerS has established relationships with leading private equity firms including; Agile Capital, Rock Hill Capital, Briarcliff Solutions, A.G. Becker and Argo, LLC.  Currently, we have active relationships with over 411 companies which represents over 1,200 total portfolio company opportunities, however SevenFigureCareerS needs to fill 40 of these positions by the end of 2015.

There’s something else Rice and all the other executive victims solicited by Arthur French (a.k.a. Art and Tony) don’t know. The “leading private equity firms” that 7F recruits for don’t exist. Any of them.

7f-mystery-manArt and Tony French

I couldn’t find any evidence online or elsewhere that any of the SevenFigureCareers people exist. French’s sales pitch always emphasizes that his firm, his clients, and the big-name PE firms involved in these recruiting deals require the utmost confidentiality.

When one victim asked French why he’s not on LinkedIn, he explained that he has such a big network that if he created a LinkedIn profile he’d be so inundated with requests to connect that he could never handle them. So he prefers to stay under the radar.

Neither of the French aliases have a LinkedIn profile that remotely suggests they have anything to do with SevenFigureCareers, 7F, or any of the firms they claim to work with. On occasion, report French’s victims, Tony will call and forget he referred to himself as Art the last time they spoke — and explain that he’s got a twin. The “brothers'” voices are indistinguishable — though twins sometimes do sound  alike.

7f-2244-faradayArthur French has a slideshow on LinkedIn’s SlideShare site which conveniently gives him a  presence without any searchable information — like his name connected to 7F — on LinkedIn itself:

http://www.slideshare.net/SevenFigureCareers/arthur-french-executive-recruiter-and-with-recruiter-64799300

One slide notes the firm has been in operation for 14 years. A few slides later, we learn SevenFigureCareers has been in business 25 years. This site lists 2244 Faraday Avenue in Carlsbad, CA as the firm’s address.

Arthur also maintains a WordPress.com blog: https://sevenfigurecareers.wordpress.com/. French explains how “Your Data & Privacy is Kept Confidential by Arthur French at 2244, Faraday Ave.” It’s also how he re-directs searches for “Arthur French Complaints.” Check his August 17, 2016 posting titled “Arthur French Complaints.” Other post titles prominently include Google search keywords like “reviews” and “complaints” and “complaint.”

French’s sites mainly serve the same purpose his press releases do: They give his victims “credentials” to read.

Here are more credentials:

https://www.yelp.com/biz/seven-figure-careers-carlsbad-2

http://www.scamadviser.com/check-website/sevenfigurecareers.com

The Set-Up

Here’s how the deal is presented to the victim.

Recruiter Tony or Art French solicits you by e-mail after finding your profile on LinkedIn or in the database of a members-only executive networking group.

The Frenches tell you they have assignments to fill executive positions by Agile Capital Partners and RockHillCapitalPartners CB, small private equity firms that participate in big funding deals done by well-known investment partnerships like Apax Partners LLC, a legitimate British private equity and venture capital firm headquartered in London.

Mark Allen, Jason Goldberg, Christopher Blake and David Marx are managing partners at Agile and RockHill. One of their names appears on an e-mail that French forwards to you. This is the “original e-mail” bait used to convince you the job opportunity is real.

Mark Allen — it’s usually Allen — tells French in the e-mail French shares with you that you’re an excellent candidate and that Apax wants to move quickly to interview and hire you.

From: Mark Allen [mailto:m_allen@rockhillcapitalpartnerscb.com]

Sent: Monday, August 29, 2016 8:42 AM
To: recruiter.afrench@sevenfigcareers.com
Cc: Christopher Blake
Subject: Re: [victim’s name redacted]

Hi Tony, We are going through with the Telecommunication Technology Solutions As A Service Company deal based in the San Jose California area. Expecting the deal to be closed by the 2nd week in September. I really like this candidate for the Chief of Business Management role, and have suggested to the other directors to approve [name redacted], for an interview. Let us know his current employment status/availability. Copying C. Blake, on this email so we can get [name redacted], interviewed quickly. For the time being, have no issue with the compensation you listed or providing an appropriate relocation package if required. Really like this candidate Art, but please keep it confidential.

All the best,
Mark Allen, Managing Director
RHCP

All scammers are sloppy and it’s how they get busted. Note that Allen addresses the e-mail to Tony, but later refers to him as Art. This is just one of many tip-offs that something is wrong.

7F references

When a prospective victim starts asking questions and wants to talk with a reference about 7F, French volunteers a managing partner from Anderson and Vance Capital Advisors — Greg Anderson.

But the reference doesn’t wash: “Sounded like B.S. to me based upon his inflections, tone and lack of ease in the conversation,” said one who got away after talking with Anderson.

Julie: Social engineering

There’s also a bit of artless social engineering in the e-mail described above, intended to make you believe there’s a close business relationship between French and his client Allen. The mail thread includes another e-mail appended to the end — and the exact same material about “Julie” appears in many mails to many victims:

Mark,

Good talking to you and glad to hear Julie is doing better. Here is that candidate I feel will fit nicely with the Telecommunication / Technology Leadership role we discussed. The type of values you usually expect from a seasoned industry expert are what I see here with [victim’s name redacted].

Thank you

A. French
VP Recruiters
7F
866 621 1062

French’s mail is of course intended only for Allen, but now you’re an insider, and you can hope Julie is doing better, too. Now French tries to reel you in.

Strictly confidential — and expensive

French tells you his client, the job, the deal itself, the managing partner, any interviews, anything you hear or learn during the process — all of it — are highly confidential. You must sign a highly restrictive non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and pay $2,500 to get the interview with the managing partner.

One victim reported: “I had a short conversation with Tony and asked for a reference. He is going to have someone call me. He stated the reason there is no info on the Internet is because they are contractually bound not to advertise any of their activities by the PE/VC [venture capital] companies they have contracts with.”

A tip-off

The first clear indication of a scam — even before you sign anything — is the phony, accelerated interview process. A real headhunter (or recruiter) will actually interview you in depth before daring to introduce you to a client.

But the Frenches don’t interview anyone — they just need your signature on a four-week contract that includes a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and your American Express card, and you’re off to the races.

By signing the NDA you agree that, if you utter a word anywhere about anyone or anything connected to this deal, you will pay a penalty “equal to the base service charge in the agreement multiplied by ten.” In other words, $25,000.

A bigger tip-off

Recruiters and headhunters never charge you money for a job interview or for any other service. They are always paid by the employer — their client.

Another tip-off

Note in the e-mail above, where French forwarded Allen’s e-mail to the victim, French violated confidentiality. Allen clearly wrote to him: “Really like this candidate Art, but please keep it confidential.”

The NDA

Another victim questioned the NDA. French explained why he doesn’t want job seekers doing any due diligence or any research to confirm what’s real and what’s phony about the deals French is selling:

Due to the confidential nature of our client company’s executive job searches and the level of financial compensation for our candidates, we must ask you to refrain from doing any due diligence or research activity on the Internet until we have been given approval by our client company.

You must click to accept that you will not violate the confidential terms and conditions of this search assignment, that you will not participate in any research type due diligence activity on the Internet that is associated in anyway shape or form with the client company or company’s presented to you, before we can share any information about this confidential skill match job opportunity.

Most of our executives have assigned confidential searches during their careers and understand the restrictions that surround a business relationship that has an in place (NDA) Non-Disclosure Agreement.

7F has developed an automated MATCH technology platform, a different approach to executive recruiting which gives us a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.  The smart shared-value approach technique is unique and has been used for 14 years helping 7F develop an exclusive list of client companies and over 1,000+ executive placements.

We deliver high-end, high paying opportunities to our candidates that we seek out personally for each of them.

Sincerely,
Tony French
VP Recruiters

[Note the “automated MATCH technology.” A painfully ironic coincidence — call it poetic justice — will arise later when we learn what happens to French’s business.]

Say what???

I’ve never seen any kind of NDA used by a recruiter that imposes such an onerous penalty. In fact, I’ve never known a recruiter to ask a job candidate to sign an NDA. Much of recruiting is based on reputation, good faith, and good communication. After all, confidentiality is a matter of mutual interest — a candidate doesn’t usually want what she’s doing with a recruiter disclosed, especially not to her current employer.

In John Rice’s case, he asked me to remove comments he’d posted on my blog because he’d signed the NDA and, after being threatened, feared he’d be liable to 7F for $25,000.

7f-trialOne Week Free Trial!

If French thinks you may balk, he tells you he’s going to discount his regular fee to only $1,500. If he’s not sure he’s set the hook deeply enough, he may offer you a “1-WEEK FREE TRIAL” — but you still must sign the NDA.

Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’am

Now it’s time for Mr. French to deliver.

After you’ve signed everything and paid up, it’s usually Allen that interviews you — always on the phone. If Allen likes you, the “partners” at Apax will hire you for the company they’re funding.

A tip-off

There’s never a face-to-face interview, or personal assessment of any kind. They just tell you you’re going to get a seven-figure job through e-mail and phone calls.

Putting aside the fact that real headhunters and recruiters always interview prospective candidates in depth, victims have described the “interviews” Allen himself — the client/employer — conducts as downright impertinent and vapid. Allen so ticked off John Rice that Rice ended the call — because Allen didn’t know how to spell the name of his own PE firm.

The kiss-off

A few days later, and after several phone calls and e-mails intended to burn up as much of the four-week contract term as possible, French always gives you bad news.

It wasn’t your fault, and the client loved you, but for some unknown reason the funding deal went south. It was the big PE firm’s decision, not Allen’s.

But French is going to present you to lots of other private equity firms for loads of other great jobs — while the contract quickly comes to an end.

If you call French to complain, your call is routed to James Chris — V.P. Account Management. Chris has a very thick accent that’s hard to guess at. Caller-ID identifies Chris’ number in Missoula, MT. He also e-mails from Ops.admin@sevenfigures.com — the same address used by a phony lawyer to threaten John Rice. Chris can’t help you with anything, but he explains that, going forward, all communications with 7F will go through him.

What is SevenFigureCareers or 7F?

After Tony French solicited him, one victim’s due diligence turned up a different kind of problem:

I contacted the business licensing offices for both Carlsbad and San Diego, CA and neither listed 7F as a company licensed to do business in the respective cities. Both offices told me if they are doing legitimate business in CA, they have to be licensed. I had them try every combination of SevenFigureCareers, 7FigCareers, Seven Fig Careers that I ran across doing my due diligence.

While this target was talking with authorities in California, I was talking with authorities in Texas. I was also calling 7F’s office — several times.

Where is SevenFigureCareers?

A call to the phone number listed on the firm’s website, (866) 621-1062, is always answered by a receptionist after a tell-tale call-forwarding click.

7f-600-broadwayThe receptionist will tell you the firm is located at 600 West Broadway, San Diego, CA. She cannot tell you which floor the business is on, or what the suite number is. Calls to three leasing companies in this attractive downtown office building — DaVinci Virtual Office Solutions, Real Office Centers, Allied Offices — reveal there is no such company in the building.

When I called and said I was Nick Corcodilos, the receptionist put me on hold then hung up. When I called back, another receptionist answered the phone and asked me if I was calling because I received an e-mail — and wanted to know who I received the e-mail from. But no one whose name I rattled off from the roster of 7F vice presidents was available.

A call to Art French’s cell phone number — shared by a victim from caller-ID — has a San Diego County area code (760) and an Encinitas, CA exchange, and is answered by voicemail.

Is there anybody in there?

One of 7F’s targets reports turning up something different:

I called Irvine Property Management, which owns the building at 600 W. Broadway, San Diego 92101, one of the addresses 7F lists. Nicki, at Irvine, stated 7F does have a public listing in suite 700, which is an executive suite, but does not have a physical presence there.

A SevenFigureCareers slideshow (http://www.powershow.com/view0/83660d-YjkwM/Sevenfigurecareers_com_Reviews_powerpoint_ppt_presentation) reveals another address: 2244 Faraday Avenue, Carlsbad, CA, telephone number (888) 630-3390.

7f-2244-faradayAnother slideshow is at http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/SevenfigureCareer-2889431-sevenfigurecareers-2244-faraday-ave-carlsbad/

When a scammer can’t show legitimate Google search results to victims, it creates phony credentials and posts them on websites like PowerShow and AuthorStream to support the scam.

The firm’s URLs include but are not limited to:

http://www.7figuresrecruiting.com/

http://www.7figrecruiting.com/who-is-sevenfigcareers

http://www.7figrecruiting.com/

A tip-off

Note the footer on the second of those two websites: “All rights reserved 2016 7F JobsinPE.” If that’s intended as a copyright notice, it is defective because it lacks the word “copyright” and the “c in a circle.” But it’s yet another name for the firm, yet another URL. These guys have loads of URLs. [UPDATE: After publication of this article, the above-listed websites were taken down.]

How SevenFigures hides

In his solicitation e-mails, Tony French puts your doubts to rest when you wonder about all the names his firm uses.

The firm is registered “under the product name 7F, which owns approximately 120 different domains we use when we get a confidential search assignment from a new PE / VC group.”

120 different domains. French says this allows 7F to find candidates confidentially. If that’s social engineering to help explain away what you find when you investigate this firm online, it’s the lazy kind.

Agile Capital Partners CB

Bloomberg provides a report on Agile, including the names of partners we already know. However, Agile seems to have no address.

7f-agile-bloombergAgile claims among its portfolio partners Accelio, Actel, ebay, Creatve TechnologY and Cray Computer. http://www.agilecapitalpartners.com/projects_past.php

According to its newer website, www.agilecapitalpartners.com, Agile has no address or phone number. On its older website (http://www.agilecpg.com/), Agile is located at Terry Francois Street in San Francisco, in Mission Bay. [UPDATE: After publication of this article, the Agile websites went dark.]

There is no street number because there is no Agile Capital Partners CB.

Mark Allen

However, Agile has Managing Partners. One of them is Mark Allen, whose bio states, “Prior to ACP, Mark was the president of Waller Capital Group, an investment bank specializing in mergers and acquisitions.” As of this writing, the only Google result for Waller is:

http://www.manta.com/c/mm8whvc/waller-capital-group-llc

It  gives an address at 9578 Pearl Circle, Unit 106, Parker, CO 80134. Here are the Waller offices, courtesy of Zillow http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/9578-Pearl-Cir-UNIT-106-Parker-CO-80134/67454733_zpid/:

7f-waller-capital

A search for “Mark Allen” +”Agile Capital” on LinkedIn yields “Sorry, no results.”

Interestingly, Bloomberg has a bio on Allen that lists him as Managing Partner at Agile Capital Partners in “Bay Area, San Francisco, California.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/person.asp?personId=265898347&privcapId=22337494)

There’s no phone number, no address. But we learn that “Mr. Allen is responsible for due-diligence.” So are some of the people he has interviewed who spoke with me about him.

The Agile website says Allen has a partner, Jason Goldberg. Let’s take a look.

Jason Goldberg

Jason Goldberg’s bio on the Agile website says he “served as VP of American Health Systems, a management consulting firm specializing in the establishment of new insurance companies.”

AHS is on LinkedIn: Its headquarters are at 1121 Avenue of the Americas, New York City. This is the old McGraw-Hill Financial, in Rockefeller Center. The building’s leasing company has never heard of American Health Systems.

7f-american-health

But if you click on the company’s website link on LinkedIn, [LINK REMOVED because it now leads to a phishing site] , you’ll visit a link farm. Click the link again. Keep clicking. The target site keeps changing. Would you like to fill out a Comcast survey?

The bio also says Goldberg “serves on the Board of the Korean American Community Foundation.” The foundation’s Deputy Director, Brennan Gang, told me that’s not true. She’s never heard of Goldberg. But she had a good laugh.

RockHillCapitalPartners CB

Mark Allen is also a Managing Partner at RockHillCapitalPartners CB (RHCP). Check the About page at http://www.rockhillcapitalpartnerscb.com/about.

But don’t confuse this phony firm with the real Rock Hill Capital Partners: http://www.rockhillcap.com/. Executive Administrator Stacey Wells told me there is no Mark Allen at her firm — and she’s never heard of RHCP CB.

Until October 7, 2016 Allen had a partner at RockHill CB: Jason Goldberg. But Goldberg has disappeared. Here he was, a few days earlier:

rockhill-a

Goldberg was suddenly replaced by David J. Marx. But no worries — Marx is on the board of the Korean American Community Foundation, too.

In fact, Marx’s bio is the exact same as Jason Goldberg’s:

Allen’s second partner at RCHP CB is Christopher Blake. You’ll remember Blake from one of the e-mails above — Mark Allen cc’d him. Blake is a lawyer, but he doesn’t have a Doppelganger:

Nor did he attend Emory University, like his bio states. Could it be another Christopher Blake? No, Emory’s Office of the Registrar told me, “I did not find a record of any Christopher Blake attending Emory.”

There are two sections on the RockHill site that include many company logos — ostensibly clients that RockHill helped fund or manage. I researched several, but the smell was so bad, I climbed out of the wormhole to catch my breath.

Sienna Ventures

Another entity for which 7F fills executive positions is Sienna Ventures. Tony French forwarded to another victim a promising e-mail written by Alan Armstrong, Managing Director at Sienna. Armstrong’s address is listed as a.armstrong@siennaventure.com.

It’s the exact same e-mail written by Mark Allen from RockHillCapital Partners CB about the job candidate described in “The Set-Up” above. It includes the same personal note about Julie at the end. (Note to Tony French: The Internet giveth, and the Internet taketh away after it busteth you.)

Quoting recruiter.afrench@sevenfigcareers.com:
Alan,

Good talking to you and glad to hear Julie is doing better.  Here is that candidate I feel will fit nicely with the enterprise software leadership and advisory role we discussed.  The type of values you usually expect from a seasoned industry expert are what I see here with [name redacted].

Thank you

Tony French
VP Recruiters
7F
866 621 1062

French is so worried about Julie.

Bloomberg offers this company overview about Sienna Ventures: http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=22941

7f-sienna-bloomberg

And right at the top of the “People” list — there’s Mr. Alan Armstrong, Managing Director. But there’s no Sienna Ventures at 1 Harbor Drive, Sausalito, CA. A call to the number listed on Bloomberg — (415) 475-7530 — yields a pointless set of choices that lead nowhere and the suggestion to visit siennaventures.com.

You’ll find this browser message:

Error 522: Connection timed out

That’s because, like RockHill and Agile, Sienna Ventures doesn’t exist, in spite of what Bloomberg reports. Links for Sienna Ventures found on Google lead to “withdrawn” and “unverified” press releases on WDRB.com and PEHUB.com:

http://www.wdrb.com/story/32400338/sienna-ventures-launches-new-100-million-venture-fund

https://www.pehub.com/2016/07/3342518/

A recent story on Fortune.com, “The Ghost in The VC Machine,” reports that “Sienna Ventures is the latest fake VC firm.” Fortune tries to answer the question, “What’s happening, and who’s behind it?”

Unfortunately, the best Fortune can do is suggest the “Sienna scam” is designed to extract $99 resume-writing fees from suckers who apply for jobs that require resumes in a special format. John Rice should have been so lucky.

Argo LLC, Briarcliff Solutions and AG Becker

Research on these partners of SevenFigureCareers — Argo LLC, Briarcliff Solutions and AG Becker — leads down the same wormhole the others live in. You can do your own research. Here are some links to get you started. Bring breathing apparatus. Call Bloomberg and ask them what’s up with this.

http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=29764366

http://www.briarcliffsolutionsgroup.com/

https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/briarcliff-solutions-group#/entity

http://agbecker.us/

http://www.bloomberg.com/Research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=2920178

http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=40423651

The devil is at the end of the story

The 7F wormhole doesn’t end here.

Where does the 7F-SevenFigureCareers wormhole lead? Who and what is at the bottom? Find out in the next installment — where an Ask The Headhunter lawyer will teach us all a thing or two about scams. And where you’ll learn how 7F got its wings clipped thanks to crowd-sourced information shared by the Ask The Headhunter community.

I won’t make you wait til next week. There will be another special edition shortly to report on the rest of the story. And a rancher friend of mine might drop by with a red-hot branding iron. 7F!

Many thanks to all who shared the information, files and documents that greased my path down the wormhole.

For the next part of the SevenFigureCareers scam story, see American Express fires recruiting scam merchant “7F.”

If you’ve had an encounter with SevenFigureCareers, a.k.a. 7F, please drop me a note.

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SevenFigureCareers: Threats and fraud

When someone threatens a member of this community, I get upset. For the past 10 days I’ve been doing research on SevenFigureCareers to find out who’s behind it. I found myself going down an Internet wormhole. Now I’m back out.

sevenfigurecareersSevenFigureCareers

SevenFigureCareers claims to be a “Recruiter Network” with “over 2,400 Associates” and “Over 1,600 Private Equity Contacts.” For a fee, it will give you “Access to Confidential Jobs” and “Hidden Opportunities.” (See SevenFigureCareers: Had an encounter?)

After John Rice [not his real name] had a bad experience, he found the Ask The Headhunter community was already talking about SevenFigureCareers. So he posted in the comments section, and requested more information from others.

Within a matter of minutes, he sent me an e-mail:

“Hey, Nick — Please take down the post I made today re: Arthur French.”

As long as someone isn’t playing games, I respect a reader’s wishes. We all sometimes blurt out something in a discussion forum that we wish we could take back. So I removed John’s comment, but I asked why he wanted it taken down. “Call me,” he wrote back.

Threats

Rice was irritated and worried.

“As soon as I posted my comment, I got an e-mail instantly from an attorney in Texas. Cease and desist, it said. Then somebody else from SevenFigures contacted me and said, if you take it down we won’t sue you. That’s when I contacted you.”

7f-threat-xI asked John if he’d called the lawyer. Of course, he said. He left a voicemail because no one answered — but the lawyer never called him back.

Much of a headhunter’s time is spent doing research, specifically, checking people out. It’s hard to hide from me if you’re trying to do business with me. Or if you’re causing trouble.

When I research people, I go to independent sources where I know I’m getting information they cannot manipulate. The State Bar of Texas was my first stop. And there was the lawyer in the directory — same name, different phone number. His record was reported as clean.

I wanted to make the call myself, but I know better than to interfere in a legal matter — so I asked John to call the lawyer at the number I’d found listed for him on the State Bar website. John’s my kind of guy — he didn’t hesitate and was excited about getting to the bottom of this.

Fraud

We both expected we’d find a kind of Better Call Saul attorney — a slime who would write a nastygram like that for a fee. What troubled me was how sloppy the e-mail was. I’m not a lawyer, but my lawyer has taught me enough about contracts and legal documents that I couldn’t imagine a real lawyer writing crap like that.

John called back shortly.

“Nick, I can’t believe it. He says he didn’t write the e-mail. Had nothing to do with it. But he’s pissed off.”

Frankly, I couldn’t believe it, either. Who would be stupid enough to impersonate a lawyer so brazenly?

With John’s permission, I called the lawyer myself. He said the threatening e-mail “was definitely not from me.” However, he had done some work for “a SevenFigures entity” about a year ago but had not had any relationship with them “for quite some time.”

The lawyer

He didn’t recognize any of the names connected to the firm that Rice and I shared with him — including Arthur French –, but he would not go into the details of work he had done for his client. This is exactly what a lawyer should say.

Since he had spoken to Rice, he said he had been “trying to figure out who was behind that e-mail” but has not been able to. He closed by saying he was going to contact his old client, and the Texas Bar Association, because he was “extremely concerned about the use of my name.”

Was he telling the truth? He was being as cagey as a good attorney should be, and I have no concrete evidence that he was involved, so I am not publishing his name unless I learn otherwise.

Meanwhile, I shared the e-mail with a New York consumer class action attorney. His comment:

“Engaging in the unauthorized practice of law is a crime in Texas (and every other state). See this link: http://www.txuplc.org/. Please keep me updated.”

What matters most is that the e-mail threat came from a sevenfigurecareers.com address, and someone at the firm was impersonating an attorney. That’s a crime. Fraud. [UPDATE: Shortly after this article was published, the SevenFigureCareers website was shuttered.]

The phone number

A search for the telephone number of the lawyer in the e-mail turned up a surprise: a press release (dated September 1, 2016) on Online PR Media about “7F-SevenFigCareers” including a media contact named Philip A. Alia. (I’m disclosing the PR agent’s name because, unlike the lawyer, he has made his connection to SevenFigures public, online.) Beneath his name is a contact number: the same number under the lawyer’s name in the threatening e-mail.

What putz would put out a fake threat from a lawyer and list a phone number that traces back to his own company’s press release? (See Stupid Recruiter Story #1.)

I tracked down Alia like I did the lawyer — through other independent sources. He’s a public relations consultant, and said he had done just one press release for “CR Nicholas” at SevenFigureCareers in December 2015. He admitted he didn’t even write it. He just placed it in the media. Alia also knew Arthur French, who is quoted in the press release. But Alia said he had done no other work for them. When I pointed out the September 1, 2016 press release, he seemed genuinely surprised. He had nothing to do with it — so I suggested he might want to bill them for it. There is no indication Alia has any other connection to SevenFigureCareers.

Alia’s experience seems to mirror the lawyer’s. One assignment for each, then SevenFigures appropriated their names and used them fraudulently. In the case of the lawyer, someone at SevenFigureCareers impersonated a Texas attorney to threaten and intimidate John Rice.

I won’t stand by when scammers threaten members of this community.

7f-logoEarlier today the SevenFigureCareers.com website was altered. The 7F logo is gone as is much of the promotional verbiage. Most of the site is now locked down behind passwords. If you type the URL into your browser, the site comes up. But if you click a link to get there, the site yields a blank page with “Nope” in a box at the top. (But if you then put your cursor at the end of the URL in your browser and hit Enter again, the site comes up.) It seems they are trying to avoid inbound links from other sites — like from this article.

7F

It turns out 7F has an interesting history. It’s an old Texas cattle brand, originated by the grandfather of a rancher whose business has long been registered as 7F, Inc. with the Texas Secretary of State. We had a long talk. He and his brand have got nothing to do with SevenFigureCareers — but he sure wants to know who’s using his grandfather’s brand as their logo.

How does a phony recruiting firm operate? See 7F: Anatomy of A Recruiting Scam.

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Stupid Recruiter Story #1

In the October 4, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a guy minding his own business meets a dog from another city.

Would you be a stupid recruiter? Let’s see how you perform. Try this exercise.

I’m going to give you $50 and tell you to buy and bring me a dog within 60 minutes — any kind of dog, and you can obtain it anywhere you like. (But you can’t keep the change. recruiter-dogIf there’s any change, we donate it to an animal shelter.) The sooner you appear with a dog, the bigger the bonus you’ll earn — up to $1,000.

You can start from one of two locations, and I’ll take you to either place you choose, but you have to make your own way back to me with the dog. One location is Grand Central Station in New York City. The other is an animal shelter in Princeton, New Jersey.

I’ll be waiting for you at the train station in Princeton. Ready? This will reveal what kind of recruiter you’d be.

Stupid recruiter?

According to the federal government, to news media, to human resources experts and employers, there’s a massive skills and talent shortage. That’s why companies can’t fill jobs. It’s akin to the startling shortage of dogs in Grand Central Station. So armies of recruiters are being deployed daily to find the right talent. Most of them are stupid.

What kind of recruiter would you be? (Hey, that could be a new interview question.) Would you chose to start looking for a dog at an animal shelter? Every day, platoons of stupid recruiters look for dogs in Grand Central Station and the Grand Canyon, by waving a “dog wanted” sign on the New Jersey Turnpike, and in dark caves.

Reader Stephen Liss sent in this e-mail exchange he had with a stupid recruiter who solicited him for a job. Liss didn’t even have a question for me. He was just tired of being mistaken for a dog.

From a recruiter

We noticed your information on the job boards or in our database and thought you may have an interest in an opportunity with a large F500 client in the Rochester,  NY area. Here are the details:

We are looking for a Technical Writer in Rochester, NY to work with one of our major clients. Please go over the details and let me know your interest.

Technical Writer with PM Skills in Rochester,  NY
6+ Months
Pay Rate: $36/hr on W2 / $40/hr on C2C
Key Skills: Technical Writing, Some Project Management Background/Skills

[truncated… I mean, who wants to read the rest?]

Stephen Liss replies

You want me to relocate from the west coast for $36/hr? Please take me off your list.

The recruiter’s response

We get these opportunities everywhere. Unfortunately our software doesn’t work by location only by skill set.

First of all, these recruiters “notice” you “everywhere” — on job boards, in databases, by sniffing telephone poles… Sheesh. Does this dog even hunt or does it just snap at whatever comes along?

The recruiter’s software organizes jobs and people by skill set only. Not by location. It doesn’t matter where the dogs are. Or where the dog has to be shipped, or how much shipping costs. The software will shout into the Grand Canyon, then move on to the Turnpike. So will most recruiters. They’re like Energizer bunnies — they will bump into anything, turn, and keep going until they find a dog.

And they will pay only $36.

Got that?

tom-perez-catThe U. S. Department of Labor

In an interview about the “talent shortage,” Tom Perez, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, tried to explain why employers can’t find the people they need to fill jobs:

“I speak to a lot of business leaders who are trying to hire. They want to hire. And the most frequent thing I hear from them is too many people coming through the door don’t have the skills necessary to do the job I need to do.”

Did you get that? The business leaders Perez talks to are counting people “coming through the door.” Thomas Perez thinks he’s hanging around with business leaders?

Hey, schmuck! Nobody walks up and hands you what you want. You have to go look for the people you need where they hang out! Be the leader of your pack! Figure it out! Stop hanging around Grand Central Station peeing on poles to attract talent. Go hunt, because a pooch isn’t going to walk up with a perfect resume in its mouth. Woof.

(Many thanks to Stephen Liss for sharing that roadkill of a recruiter solicitation.)

What proportion of recruiter requests match you and the work you do? How many are just dogs? I’m looking for Stupid Recruiter Story #2.

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SevenFigureCareers: Had an encounter?

SevenFigureCareers, aka 7F, aka 7Figures

Readers have been sending me stories about their encounters with this firm — SevenFigureCareers.com — which charges thousands to set you up with clandestine private equity and venture capital firms for top-secret jobs at confidential start-up companies with interviewers whose names cannot be spoken.

Confidential

amex-partner

This firm’s business is so confidential that you’ll have to search carefully to find its own name on its website.

Top Secret

The FAQ is locked down, the Contacts page and “Who We Are” are hidden, but SevenFigureCareers proudly displays the American Express Partner logo, which inspires confidence.

If you’ve been solicited by Arthur French or Tony French, I’d love to hear about your encounter. Post here, or drop me a note about your encounter.

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Recruiting From The Panic Room

Recruiting has changed. In the September 27, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant responds to a posting and gets a call from the cops.

Is this recruiting?

recruiting-welcomeEmployers are so out of it that they’re not only putting up digital roadblocks against people they’re trying to attract — such as online application forms and video interviews — now they’re hiding in bunkers, barring the doors, and calling the cops on earnest job applicants.

A reader found this stunning episode on an Indeed discussion forum:

I recently applied to a job on Indeed and sent a follow up e-mail a few days later. About a week passed with no response, and I sent another e-mail, saying I would come by their office. They quickly sent a response saying they no longer had a position available. Twenty minutes later I got a phone call from the police. They complained that I threatened and harassed them. I denied it, and the cop said to not contact them again. The whole thing is almost unbelievable. I hate applying for jobs.

WTF?

Why doesn’t this employer just keep an armed guard posted at the door?

When you find a job posting online, can you get arrested for showing up in person at a company to apply? I’m not a lawyer, and I won’t touch that question, but such conflicted behavior and mixed signals sent by employers reveal just how dysfunctional recruiting has become.

Applying through the front door

More than once, I walked into companies I wanted to work for and gave my resume to a receptionist. Sometimes a manager would come out to talk to me. Or a personnel clerk would appear briefly. When no one appeared, I’d chat up the receptionist, collect some company literature to educate myself, and go home. Worst case, I’d write the employer off. On to the next.

If employers are afraid of who comes in the front door, why are they recruiting? Why are they in business? What if a customer shows up unannounced? Does the sales department send in its dogs?

WTF, indeed. I know many people who have taken the time and trouble to go to an employer’s office to demonstrate how serious they are about getting a job. But recruiters have so dehumanized job applicants they’re trying to attract that they no longer know how to welcome them.

Hiding from the applicants

Employers solicit such staggering numbers of people that they’re are afraid of who appears. The only way to process the incoming rush is to dehumanize and render people into database morsels. (See “How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.”) And to hide.

recruiting-barricadeThis cannot be reconciled with the idea that an employer is trying to attract you. When you’re an abstraction in a database — a mess of keywords — the assumption is that you’re to be avoided and feared, either as a waste of time or, in this case, as a physical threat.

Lest someone suggest it’s inappropriate to show up at a company after submitting a resume, keep in mind that at some point you’ll be invited for an interview at a bricks-and-mortar office that has a front door. If the front door is a locked bunker, then the job applicant who posted that story would likely just walk away — probably disgruntled. But if the front door is open for business, then it’s no more inappropriate for a job applicant to show up than it is for a customer to show up to buy something.

Recruiting from the panic room

So what does this incident mean? We must assume the job applicant did nothing wrong or threatening. After all, this person was applying for a job. They want to impress the employer — not hurt anyone — hence the visit to the office. (On the flip side, does a job applicant assume a murderous psychopath has lured them to an interview?)

When an employer worries for its safety or fears who’s going to show up, that tells us there’s something fundamentally wrong with popular methods of recruiting. It’s pretty clear that the fear and worry stem from soliciting teeming hordes of applicants that employers don’t really want. Depersonalizing and demonizing them only adds to the distrust — we naturally fear the unknown.

This incident is perhaps the most stunning evidence that the online employment system companies rely on is inherently twisted and warped. (See “Employment In America: WTF is going on?”) This job seeker’s experience reveals a panic-room mentality, where employers huddle and hide behind locked doors and impenetrable applicant tracking systems. It highlights one recruiting perversion after another:

  • Advertise a healthy work environment — but reveal your company’s paranoid culture.
  • Proclaim a desire to find great people — but treat applicants like they’re psychopathic marauders.
  • Solicit job applicants — then tell them there’s no job.
  • Open your company to the talent — then call the cops when the talent arrives.
  • Talk about how people are your most important asset — but only let digital profiles and applications in the door.

The problem is not that a company called the cops on a job applicant it attracted. That’s merely a symptom. The problem is that the highly automated recruiting system our economy depends on can’t deal with people.

What kinds of contradictory messages have you gotten from employers? What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had when applying for an advertised job?

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Should I take a 30% pay cut to keep my job?

In the September 20, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader doesn’t see a pay cut as a good deal.

pay cutQuestion

Yesterday my company, which is experiencing cash flow difficulties, asked me to take a 30% salary cut to keep doing the same job and still at full time. Do you have any tips on how to respond? I feel like I’ve been bushwhacked.

Nick’s Reply

The obvious answer is to tell them to shove it and quit.

But if that were your first choice, you wouldn’t be asking for tips. There are several ways you could respond, so let’s consider some of the issues before I offer some suggestions you could tweak to suit your needs.

Let me ask a key question:

Did they give you any indication or evidence that they expect to return your salary to normal again? When?

If they’ve communicated nothing about that, it’s a bad sign. If they’ve made promises, ask for it in writing. How they respond will tell you all you need to know about the company’s viability. Good management is honest with employees and makes and keeps commitments. A company that leaves you in the dark about what’s really happening is in more trouble than it seems. Don’t ignore signals about this.

You need to decide how much you need that cash flow yourself. That will dictate what you should do next: wait it out or move on immediately?

Another question:

Is there anything you can say or do that would bring your salary back up?

In other words, if you decline the cut, would they keep you on at your regular salary? I doubt it. So the choice is, do you accept the new terms while you look for a better job (without disclosing that’s what you’re doing), or do you quit and focus all your time on a new job?

Only you can answer that.

Negotiate a pay cut

This might work if your employer is likely to recover financially: Ask if they’d leave your salary at 100% on the books, pay you 30% less, and issue a promissory note for the balance. That is, an IOU. Then you might have standing to collect when they go bankrupt and a judge has to decide whose debts get paid first by the court.

Or, play tit for tat: Take the pay cut if they’ll take a work cut. Offer to work 30% fewer hours. Always be aware that opening a negotiation can result in the other guy withdrawing the deal entirely. That is, they might just tell you to leave now. But you could just leave now, too.

Fall back on this

Now I’ll give you my second best advice. Talk with a good employment attorney before you answer about the 30% cut. I know an attorney will cost you a few bucks, but consider how much that pay cut will cost you over the next one or two months. An hour with an attorney will probably seem like a good investment if your goal is to work out terms.

If you’re pretty sure the pay cut will turn into a layoff, start preparing now. Here are a few other issues to consider, from my PDF book, Parting Company: How to leave your job:

Should you volunteer to get laid off?

You might be able to get a severance package that costs the company even less than keeping you on at a 30% pay cut — if you volunteer to leave. (See pp. 26-27.)

Should you tell your boss you’re leaving?

Are you going to start a job search? Your boss probably wouldn’t be surprised — but I advise you not to disclose what you’re doing. If you’re going to rely on whatever meager salary they’re going to keep paying you, don’t risk it by appearing disloyal because you’re looking for a new job. (See pp. 38-39.)

If you’re ready to quit, see How should I quit this job? If you’re not going to read the book, at least read the article Parting Company: How to leave your job.

Stand up to downsizing

Are you pretty certain the company is going to fire you soon? From the book:

“Be smart. If you’re caught in a downsizing, don’t let yourself be pulled under by the current of panic. Everyone grabs the same life preservers: the job postings, the resumes, the cover letters and the random interviews. By that point, the channels of the employment system are clogged with so much competition that surviving the trip is debilitating, if not impossible.” (See pp. 23-25.)

In other words, don’t be the last one out the door pursuing the same jobs as your laid off co-workers!

Prepare and plan for the worst. When employers ask their employees for money — make no mistake, that’s exactly what this is — it’s a bad sign.

The only thing that would make me feel better is if your employer puts some skin in the game, too, in one of the ways I suggest above. But here’s my best advice: Immediately start a job search and get ready to move on — but be careful. (See How your old boss can cost you a new job.)

I wish you the best with this, but I doubt it’s going to work out well.

Did you ever take a pay cut to keep your job? How did it turn out? What would you advise this reader to do?

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