Victims of the SevenFigureCareers recruiting scam report they’re getting their money back — but not from SevenFigureCareers. Major credit card companies have refunded $2,500 fees collected by the phony recruiting firm — simply upon request.
Credit card disputes rejected
Last year, after paying $2,500 for phony job interviews with phony private equity firms, victims of SevenFigureCareers had to submit documentation to their credit card companies and wait for lengthy “chargeback reviews,” only to be rejected.
For example, American Express cardholders said their disputes were denied after SevenFigures defended the charges by submitting copies of contracts the victims signed.
“Something told me it might be a ripoff,” said one American Express cardholder who was recruited for a top-level job. “But they had a big American Express Partner logo on their website, so I thought it must be legit. Worst case, AmEx would protect me, right? They didn’t.”
More than one victim was told by American Express to hire a lawyer and go after SevenFigures on their own.
After Ask The Headhunter published information last October showing the merchant was not a legally registered entity, American Express and VISA started issuing full refunds.
Now victims requesting refunds report their credit card companies are not requiring dispute forms or documentation. Most recently, VISA credit card holders reported getting instant approval on the phone for their $2,500 refunds. Some got refunds almost a year after they got ripped off.
“After I read about it on your website,” a victim told Ask The Headhunter, “I made careful notes from the articles and called VISA with my facts. It took seven minutes to get the refund.”
How to get your money back
If you believe you were scammed by SevenFigureCareers, it seems all you have to do is call your credit card company’s fraud office (check the back of your card for the telephone number) and dispute the charge. It helps to have your credit card bill handy.
The merchant is listed on bills not as “SevenFigureCareers” — or any of the multitude of other names it uses, including 7F, 7Figures, 7Figs and SevenFigureS.
Who charged you?
The merchant appears on credit card bills as “WWJESS, LLC” and may include the phone number 832 912-4445.
“I told VISA it was an unauthorized charge,” said another victim. “After I read complaints from other people and your articles about SevenFigures, I realized I was a victim of fraud because the contract I signed was not legal. Art French, the recruiter who did this, called his business SevenFigureCareers. That’s not the name on the contract or on my bill. The Texas company on the contract is WWEJSS and on the bill it’s WWJESS. None of these are registered in Texas. I called and checked myself. After I read your articles, VISA gave me my money back with no argument. There was no job, there was no PE firm, it wasn’t an interview and there’s nobody named Art French!”
One look at the contract victims signed show they were contracting with WWEJSS, LLC — not WWJESS, LLC. What a difference the position of a J makes!
Perhaps more important, the “Texas corporation” on the contract is not legally registered. The Secretary of State of Texas, which requires any entity doing business from Texas to be registered, says it has no record of WWJESS, LLC, or wwejss, LLC, or WWEJSS, LLC. Nor, for that matter, is SevenFigureCareers registered. (7F, Inc., however, is registered. It’s a respected cattle ranch and has no connection to the scam.)
“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.”
In other words, credit card companies use a fraud database that includes not just the names of companies, but names of the people behind them. When one credit card company gets burned, it lets the others know.
A scam by another name
Did you lose money to a recruiting scam that sounds like this one, but the names were different? The scammers behind SevenFigureCareers are already using other names. We will publish a list shortly. Sign up for e-mail updates using the Updates by e-mail link on the right-hand sidebar of this page, near the top.
Don’t be embarrassed
Scammers depend on their victims’ shame and embarrassment to keep them quiet. If you lost money to this scam, call the fraud office of American Express, VISA, MasterCard or any credit card you used. Get your money back.
Have you been scammed by SevenFigureCareers? Did you get your money back? Add your case to our log: Send us an e-mail with your details. Ask The Headhunter will not publish any of your information without your permission. Logs will be shared with federal authorities.
SevenFigureCareers is a recruiting firm that doesn’t recruit. Real recruiters are paid by employers to find candidates to fill jobs — they don’t charge job seekers. In a recruiting scam, you pay the fee.
SevenFigureCareers’ recruiters charge you a fee to set up bogus interviews with phony managing partners at fake private equity (PE) firms. And then you’re out $1,500, $2,500, $4,500 or $10,000 — depending on which iteration of this racket you did business with.
After months of research driven by loads of information crowd-sourced from the Ask The Headhunter community, best estimates are that this international scam has generated as much as $18 million since 1999.
A 17-year racket
The people behind this scam have operated at least four different recruiting firms that have each operated under several names themselves:
Executive Headhunter Group (Executive HGG)
Private Equity Headhunters (PEH)
Executive Top Gun Search (Top Gun, ETG)
SevenFigureCareers (7F, 7figcareers)
With each iteration, complaints have piled up on sites like RipOffReport, Scam.org, and Ask The Headhunter. Victims have sued for breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, common law fraud, and consumer fraud — and won judgments in court.
In the current scam, SevenFigureCareers, victims sign a contract for services and pay thousands of dollars by credit card. As we’ve already seen, the contract is bogus because the company behind it, WWEJSS, LLC, “a Texas corporation” is phony. (Even the wording on the contract is bogus, because an LLC is not a corporation.) The Texas Secretary of State confirms there is no such legal entity registered — and it must be registered if it is to conduct business.
While the contract is legally invalid, an American Express merchant account tied to that contract was very real. The contract, the account, and the domain SevenFigureCareers.com are all tied to WWEJSS.
So, who’s behind this scam outfit, and who owns SevenFigureCareers.com?
A search for WWEJSS turns up a tech-support thread loaded with profanity at Wix.com, a website developer tool. The customer wwejss refers to his website, 7figuresrecruiting.com, one of the Internet domains related to SevenFigureCareers.com.
This bit of information will be helpful later. But what we’re looking for is a name tied to WWEJSS.
Who Is It?
A WHOIS database search for SevenFigureCareers.com turns up a domain registration whose owner is hidden. For a few bucks, anyone can privately register a domain name. Note the creation date of this domain registration: March 20, 2015.
DNS Record History
But what’s hidden on the Internet is not always completely hidden. StatsInfinity — an Internet statistics tool — reveals a Domain Name System (DNS) record history that confirms SevenFigureCareers.com was registered on March 20, 2015.
Unlike WHOIS, StatsInfinity also shows the history of the domain, which reveals the owner’s name, street address, e-mail address, and phone number. The owner’s name is listed as “Worldwide WWEJSS.”
Note the phone number: (832) 912-4445. We’ll call it later to see who answers.
Apparently, whoever established this domain locked the ownership information afterwards. But the details were captured and preserved by StatsInfinity.
Closer inspection delivers the gold nugget of information we’ve been looking for. There’s a name now connected to WWEJSS and SevenFigureCareers.com on a public document that also serves as a legal Internet registration: Craig Chrest.
Iterations of the scam
Internet research reveals that this recruiting scam is not new. Several iterations going back to at least 1999 can be traced to the same operating entity — WWEJSS — and Craig Chrest. Before we get to the name connected to SevenFigureCareers.com, let’s go back to the domain name we found on the Wix.com support page, 7figuresrecruiting.com. (If this is not a chronological history, it’s how Internet data led to each of the companies involved.)
#1: Private Equity Headhunters
A Google search for “7figuresrecruiting.com” takes us to ScamOrg.com, where we find a lengthy report about another company, Private Equity Headhunters LLC, which pre-dates SevenFigureCareers. (You may need a score card to keep track.)
One victim connects this firm with 7figuresrecruiting. And who turns up in the complaints but “Art French (salesman),” who refers to himself in e-mails as “VP Recruiting” at SevenFigureCareers.com. (For more about Mr. French and his twin brother Tony, see 7F: Anatomy of A Recruiting Scam.)
An earlier recruiting firm surfaces when we examine the addresses of these entities, and it’s tied to the same owner.
The street address on Craig Chrest’s current SevenFigureCareers.com domain registration is 12841 Jones Road, Houston, Texas. A search for this address on TexasCorporates.com turns up another Chrest property: Executive Top Gun Search, LLC — at the same address.
While WWEJSS and SevenFigureCareers are not legally registered entities, Executive – Top Gun Search, LLC was registered in Texas on May 30, 2002 by Craig N. Chrest at 12019 Bexhill Dr., Houston, TX, 77065. The registration is still active.
Now let’s jump forward to SevenFigureCareers. Note Chrest’s middle initial on the Top Gun registration — N. While his name is never used by anyone at SevenFigureCareers, his initials make their way into the business. According to myrelatives.com, the N stands for Nicholas.
When victims of SevenFigureCareers filed disputes with American Express, the merchant was required to document the transactions and submit supporting information to AmEx. When those victims also complained to Art French, he called them back to announce “we won the settlement — we always do.” Then French offered to put them in touch with “the CEO of the company” — C.R. Nicholas — because “our CEO would like to make things right with you.”
Listen to a voicemail left by French for a victim:
“Mr. Nicholas” (CRaig Nicholas Chrest?), later left this message for the same victim:
When the victim spoke with Nicholas, Nicholas ranted about how Ask The Headhunter is “scamming” SevenFigureCareers and causing trouble — but Nicholas would “look into getting you your money back.”
French was lying, and so was Nicholas. AmEx not only refunded the victims’ money, AmEx cancelled the merchant account.
Now that we have a first, middle and last name for the owner of these companies, let’s get back to Top Gun. Websites for Executive Top Gun Search disappeared after customer complaints revealed the scam on sites like RipOffReport. (See links to complaints below.) Searches for the firm turn up nothing but complaints.
#3: The Executive Headhunter Group
The earliest iteration of Chrest’s recruiting business is referenced in a press release that claims Craig Chrest started The Executive Headhunter Group in 1999. This glowing article on SBWire is dated 2011 and is loaded with text links to Top Gun — but they’re all dead pages.
A 2013 prweb press release refers to this iteration by another name — “Executive HHG.” It’s filled with links to a “domain for sale” page.
The firm’s website is gone, but there are plenty of complaints lodged against it and Craig Chrest. The complainants tie Executive HGG to Top Gun.
The most recent iteration of this recruiting scam has been documented extensively on Ask The Headhunter.
Another variation of the WWEJSS name turns up on USplaces.com — this time as WWEJSSLLS. LLS has no meaning I’ve been able to discern.
Is this another recruiting business? Perhaps it’s just another sloppy error — intended to be “LLC.” More likely it’s intended to cause more confusion for potential suckers doing their due diligence.
But it’s yet another business listed at the 12841 Jones Road address that again and again leads back to Chrest.
Legal filings connecting WWEJSS and Craig Chrest tie all the entities together with names, addresses, and telephone numbers.
There was no indication what the letters WWEJSS stood for until one of the victims pressed American Express for more detailed information about the name of this merchant on credit card bills and on the SevenFigureCareers contract. AmEx coughed up the solution: Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions. But the only address AmEx would provide is “Suite 201, Houston, TX.” A spokesperson for American Express declined to explain why it won’t give cardholders the full address of one of its merchants.
While WWEJSS is not a registered entity, thus rendering the SevenFigureCareers contract invalid, Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions, LLC is registered in Texas. But the registration — like the SevenFigureCareers.com domain name — is hidden, this time behind a “registered agent service.” Someone doesn’t want to be found.
But in the world of government registrations, you can’t hide. Ask The Headhunter’s attorneys turned up this summary of the LLC’s true owners:
Craig Crest is listed as a member, or owner, of the LLC. The rest of the details are in the complete Certificate of Formation filed by Chrest’s partner, Franklin Wescott Straussbaugh, with the State of Texas.
LLCs are interesting legal entities. They’re not corporations and technically they’re not partnerships. They have members (owners) and they have managers. The formation certificate declared all the members managers. Less than a month later, Straussbaugh filed a Certificate of Correction making Chrest the sole manager of the LLC. The other two members, Jaree Zafar and Franklin W. Straussbaugh, remain members and owners. (Soon we’ll see that Straussbaugh is more than just a member.)
[See Update at end of this article. Zafar claims Chrest added him to the LLC without his knowledge or consent and says he is taking legal action to be removed.]
Executive Top Gun Search, LLC (a.k.a. ETG) was registered by Craig N. Chrest on May 30, 2002.
The Ask The Headhunter legal team pulled ETG’s Articles of Organization, filed May 30, 2002 by Chrest. He is the only member and manager of record.
Privateequityheadhunters.Com, LLC (a.k.a. PEH) was registered June 27, 2013 by another registered agent, InCorp Services, Inc. But PEH’s Certificate of Formation shows this LLC was organized by Jaree Zafar, Chrest’s partner at Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions, LLC. [See Update below. Zafar claims Chrest forged his digital signature.] But according to the Certificate, Craig Chrest is the real manager behind all the legal shielding — he’s the guy behind Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions, LLC, which is listed as “the governing person…” and “Managing Member”:
By skipping from one business entity to the next, Chrest and his team tried to escape the torches and pitchforks that were pursuing them online and in the courts.
12841 Jones Rd Ste 201, Houston, Texas
The address listed by Chrest on business filings, 12218 Jones Road, Suite D-108, Houston, TX, 77070, is a Mailboxes Plus store — a mail dropbox.
According to public records, Executive Top Gun Search (ETG), Top Gun Executive Group, Worldwide WWEJSS and WWEJSSLLS are located at 12841 Jones Road, Suite 201 in Houston, Texas, phone number (832) 912-4445. It’s not clear why American Express hides the “12841 Jones Road” part of this address from cardholders who have demanded contact information about the AmEx merchant that bilked them.
Earlier, we noted the phone number listed on the domain registration for SevenFigureCareers.com — it’s the same. While the number listed on the SevenFigureCareers website (at 600 W. Broadway, San Diego, CA), and the number C.R. Nicholas says he’s calling from, is (866) 621-1062, the telephone number under which the businesses are registered, (832) 912-4445 is answered by a man who says, “Billing.”
When I called for comments about the subject of this article, the man answering denies he is Craig Chrest and says he is not familiar with any of the firms or people we’re talking about. He says he’s not in Suite 201, but in 301. The building’s manager says there is no Suite 301 or third floor in this building, where offices are rented to lawyers and other businesses.
The voice answering (832) 912-4445 is, in my opinion, the same as the voice on voicemails left by C.R. Nicholas.
When Ask The Headhunter visited the building, we found a directory of occupants inside the front door. The business occupying Suite 201 is “CNC.” Could that refer to Craig Nicholas Chrest? This seems to be the real home of all the recruiting firms connected to WWEJSS.
Who is Craig Chrest?
Craig Chrest, the documented owner of the SevenFigureCareers.com domain is also the man who owns, manages and controls Top Gun Executive Search, Private Equity Headhunters, Executive HGG, and Worldwide Executive Job Search Solutions (WWEJSS) — but has no LinkedIn connection to any of these business entities.
What successful business person isn’t on LinkedIn? Not Arthur or Tony French. Not C.R. Nicholas or Wesley Strauss or others connected to these firms. Franklin Wescott Straussbaugh does not exist on the Internet. Not even the notable entrepreneur Mark Allen is on LinkedIn, and he’s the managing partner at the notable Agile Capital Partners who “interviewed” victims for seven-figure jobs… just on the phone.
But Craig Chrest has quite a presence online, if you know to look for him.
According to public records and to promotional materials he published himself, Craig “Chip” Chrest played football at the University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse, and later in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers and the Cleveland Browns.
Chrest published the Top Gun Executive Group’s Blog during 2011. Judging from comments on his posts, the blog was used to create a “presence” to bolster the brand. The names and comments on his posts are nonsense.
Many other Top Gun pages appear on third-party hosts, clearly intended to create as big an Internet presence as possible. For example, Yola lets anyone build a free business web presence.
Another photo captioned with Chrest’s name appears on a recruiting association website, Top Echelon.
A biography published on fandom reports that Chrest majored in journalism and marketing, sold software and medical equipment, and founded Executive HHG in Houston, Texas in 2013.
Top Gun In Trouble
Fandom also reports that:
In 2013, Chrest and Top Gun were defendants in two civil court cases in which the jury awarded the plaintiff all actual damages and attorney fees of 4 times actual damages for one and subsequently additional damages for the second.
The biography links to Texas attorney Bradley J. Aiken, whose website provides more details about Michael Heartsong v. Executive-Top Gun Search LLC.
Chrest testified in this trial and lost. A unanimous jury awarded four times actual damages to the plaintiff for “misrepresentations and breach of an employment search services contract.” Michael Heartsong never collected a dime of the judgment. Chrest claimed bankruptcy.
In 2010, New Jersey resident Vincent Peters sued The Top Gun Executive Group and, after multiple appeals, in 2013 won a final judgment from the 14th Court of Appeals in the State of Texas. LawCitations.com provides details, including this excerpt:
BACKGROUND Peters is a resident of New Jersey, and Top Gun is incorporated in Texas with its principal place of business in Texas. Peters and Top Gun signed a contract for Top Gun to locate employment opportunities for Peters, among other things. Peters paid Top Gun $4,500 for the service. Peters eventually sued Top Gun in New Jersey for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation, common law fraud, consumer fraud in violation of a New Jersey statute, and attorney‘s fees. Peters obtained a default judgment for $18,680.62 and filed the judgment in Texas pursuant to UEFJA.
Websites connected to older iterations of Chrest’s recruiting firms have disappeared. But complaint sites document more PE firms, addresses, and names of individuals connected to this series of scams. While people posting complaints do so anonymously, their stories are consistent and the pieces fit together across sites and time.
Complaints dated 2013-2016 appear on Facebook, Yelp, Scam.org and RipOffReport and refer to Craig Chrest, Arthur French, Wes Strauss, Wes Anderson, CR Nichols, Wade Ahmed, Douglass Robinson, to “The Top Gun Executive Group AKA Executive Headhunter Group (along with other aliases),” and an enormous cast of characters.
Threats against victims
One of the RipOffReports features “retaliation responses” trying to discredit victims. The responses are never credible and offer no trackable source. A legitimate company would respond and provide a name and contact information.
Perhaps the most interesting collection of victims’ stories appears on ScamOrg.com, about Private Equity Headhunters LLC. It’s chock full of names associated with various iterations of the scam, among them some familiar to victims of SevenFigureCareers. These complaints also triggered “responses” threatening the complainers.
It seems the threats frightened some complainers into silence, including a case where the scammers posted the full name of a victim — apparently to intimidate her. But judging from Scam.org postings, victims caught on and lost their fears.
Evolution of the non-disclosure threat
As complaints mounted, each firm disappeared and a new one popped up to replace it. This seems to explain why the newest “contract” — for SevenFigureCareers — includes a wild non-disclosure (NDA) clause that warns victims they’ll be liable for tens of thousands of dollars if they ever speak up.
This NDA strategy seems to have shut up new victims, notably John Rice, who first posted his complaint on Ask The Headhunter. Rice then asked me to remove it when a phony lawyer sent him a nasty e-mail invoking the confidentiality clause. The NDA seemed to be working — for a while.
But we learned the lawyer was fake — which prompted legal review of the contract, and investigation of WWEJSS. It’s all phony, thus the threats are once again empty. And now victims are not just posting complaints. Victims are delivering documentation that has led to the exposure of the entire ring and the whole string of recruiting companies under Craig Chrest’s registrations.
How big is the scam?
It’s big. Multi-million-dollars big.
Size of the operation
While it might seem there are many people involved in the operation discussed in this series of articles, indications are that it’s just a handful.
According to victims, Chrest handles the database and operations from Houston (including “Billing”). People familiar with Straussbaugh suggest he’s the voice on the phone — Arthur and Tony French, a.k.a. Wesley Strauss and Wes Anderson — doing the sales pitches and coddling the victims until they realize their money is gone. A changing roster of programmers seem to be helping with the back end in Pakistan. According to a 2013 prweb article, Jaree Zafar — an LLC organizer and current member — handled information technology, though his involvement today is unclear. [See Update at end of this article.]
It doesn’t take many people to run a scam when it’s automated. Judging from communications received from SevenFigureCareers by victims, boilerplate “reports” and “updates” are mail-merged with different names and sent out en masse every day to hundreds of victims and targets at a time. Most notable is the boilerplate included in supposedly confidential e-mails between French and the managing partners of PE firms. This bit of social engineering has generated loads of laughs among the Ask The Headhunter team:
Good talking to you and glad to hear Julie is doing better.
Suckers are supposed to think they’re listening in on personal repartee that reveals the close connections between Art French and his clients. But Julie is referenced in e-mail threads attributed to multiple sources and included on mails pertaining to multiple job opportunities from different “managing partners.” Poor Julie.
Ask The Headhunter has been contacted by people to whom Chrest has bragged about his accomplishments. How much money have victims been scammed out of since at least 1999?
Reasonable estimates are between $4 million and $10 million, possibly more. Chrest has changed his fees over 17 years to what the market will bear — $10,000 per “client,” $4,500, $2,500, $1,500. The number of victims per month is shocking.
When American Express cut off the WWEJSS merchant account, the credit card company’s fraud unit kicked into action. Victims have confirmed that AmEx has already begun refunding fraudulent charges to cardholders. VISA and MasterCard participate in a fraud clearinghouse called MATCH. Because of the scope of the scam, it’s reasonable to expect that federal authorities are investigating. One victim has reported that:
The good news is that I have all the addresses, contracts and bank info to turn over to the FBI.
The credit card companies and banks have a lot of explaining to do. Now that victims are demanding charge-backs, does anyone think the card companies are going to eat the costs in dollars and damage to their brands? How did they let this go on for 17 years?
Art French solicited a leading telecommunications scientist in Israel who contacted Ask The Headhunter immediately. He played cat and mouse with French while feeding along French’s e-mails and audio recordings of their conversations.
The scientist believes French found him in an executive networking database he’d recently joined. This suggests time zones and country boundaries are no obstacle when everything is done online and on the phone — and that there are many more overseas victims and targets who will come forward.
Here a condescending French pitches the “opportunity” for a phony job with Apax — a renowned London-based venture firm — and an interview with the non-existent Mark Allen. It’s all very, very confidential. (Audio approx. 3 minutes.)
At the end, French lays the hook — he’s got to get approval to “let” his victim do the interview.
In the next call, French tries to reel in the victim. He explains how “the program” works. Finally, the frustrated French discloses that an interview for the job in San Jose is going to cost $1,500. And, if the Apax job doesn’t work out, for thousands of dollars more, “7F” will make him “a client” for three months. (Audio approx. 6 minutes.)
International fraud is what attracts federal authorities. French is still waiting for the scientist in Israel to wire $2,500.
Craig Chrest: “Someone is scamming us!”
When victims have confronted Craig Nicholas Chrest — calling himself Mr. Nicholas — after they realized he’d ripped them off, he has responded that, “Someone is scamming us!” Someone was using his firm’s name, ripping people off, and making it look like it was him.
But Chrest’s signature across a span of 14 years doesn’t lie about who’s behind it all. Here it is on the 2002 Articles of Organization for Executive Top Gun Search, LLC that he filed with the Texas Secretary of State:
And here’s Chrest’s signature, dated September 1, 2016, on a contract he signed as SevenFigureCareers with one of his victims — while claiming he was C.R. Nicholas, CEO of the firm:
This particular victim’s $2,500 was refunded by American Express after the credit card company’s fraud unit turned off the lights on Chrest’s merchant account.
I think they are. The names are different. But note the address of one of the scam recruiting firms discussed in the Fortune article: 600 West Broadway, San Diego, California.
That’s the address of SevenFigureCareers, which appears in press releases like the one below, and on the firm’s erstwhile website, and which is confirmed by the receptionist when you call (866) 621-1062:
This scam is bigger than anyone has guessed until now.
Have you been scammed?
Repeated calls to SevenFigureCareers’ advertised phone number, (866) 621-1062 (which is also the number on the firm’s contract) to reach Art French, C.R. Nicholas, Franklin Straussbaugh, Craig Chrest, and Jaree Zafar for comment failed. Only an answering service is available. [See Update at end of this article. Zafar contacted Ask The Headhunter after publication of this article and provided a detailed comment.]
What’s interesting is that the receptionist — like the guy answering the phone at 12841 Jones Road — answers, “Billing,” then denies you’ve reached SevenFigureCareers. When pressed to speak with Art French, she goes to get him, then says “your account representative is not available” and denies any of the aforementioned individuals are at the number.
If you’re a victim of any of the recruiters and recruiting firms described, I’d like to hear from you. So far the people behind these firms have stayed far enough under the radar to trigger only small lawsuits — which the plaintiffs have always won.
The scam continues
Recently an Ask The Headhunter reader who paid SevenFigureCareers with his VISA card contacted me and referred to Chrest & Crew as the “7F CROOKS.” He said:
Anthony French solicited and sold me on a PE package and I actually got an interview with a PE firm that was questionable at best. Now their emails are all dead! I welcome a chance to share this bad experience with your readers.
Is it possible to go after people who hide behind ever-changing business names? Lawrence Barty, an attorney who has specialized in employment and labor law, offers this:
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.
In the meantime, American Express found enough evidence in these articles to start refunding money to victims who were each defrauded of thousands of dollars by “WWEJSS.” No matter which credit card you paid with, you should contact your credit card issuer, include links to this series of articles, and ask for restitution.
All crooks are sloppy
This story started with an Ask The Headhunter reader who complained about getting scammed out of $2,500 by SevenFigureCareers on the comments section of this website. (See SevenFigureCareers: Threats and fraud.) He immediately received a threatening e-mail from a lawyer. The lawyer’s name was real — but the lawyer didn’t write the threat. He was impersonated by someone at SevenFigureCareers — a crime in all 50 states.
Arrogance makes scammers sloppy, especially when they do their business on the Internet. But when it’s on the Internet, information is forever — and any number of people can play.
Many thanks to all who have shared their experiences and information, and e-mails, contracts, recordings, and other documents to help expose this recruiting racket. Special thanks to the Ask The Headhunter legal team for digging up and reviewing documents, and for their insights, comments and legal advice. A big shout out to the field team that visited actual locations discussed in this article.
>Update: November 30, 2016
Jaree Zafar contacted Ask The Headhunter after publication of this article and says that he himself is “a victim of this fraudster,” referring to Craig Chrest.
Zafar says, “I am not his partner,” but that he worked for Chrest as an independent contractor “handling his IT needs between 2012 and 2013,” and decided to leave when he discovered Chrest’s “fraudulent practices.” He says that since 2013 he has had “absolutely nothing to do with Craig Chrest or his businesses,” that he has “not been paid a single cent from him” since 2013 — and that Chrest “still owes me thousands for my last month” of work.
Commenting on the LLC filings that bear his name, Zafar says, “I found out that [Chrest] had forged my signatures on his LLC formation and added me as a member without informing me and without my permission.”
It’s worth noting that, while Craig Chrest’s and Franklin Straussbaugh’s actual signatures appear on the Texas State filings obtained by Ask The Headhunter (see links above), Zafar’s actual signature does not. He explained that the forms were filed online and that Chrest merely had to type a name in place of an actual signature — without Zafar’s permission.
In 2013 Zafar “assumed that [Chrest] would have removed my information [from the LLCs] after receiving three demand letters from my attorney.” Unable to afford legal costs, Zafar says he did not go through with litigation.
About Chrest, Zafar says, “This guy has a long history of impersonating and defrauding people. I have contacted my attorney regarding this matter and I intend to start criminal proceedings for identity theft and fraud… but since he has all my personal information including my date of birth and social security number, I am now seriously concerned about the extent of this thief’s intentions. I am sorry for everyone who has been victimized by this fraudster.”
Have you been solicited or ripped-off by a similar scam?
Comments on this post are closed. If you’ve encountered what you believe is a similar scam, send details here.
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.
A 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.
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.”
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.
Hunting… 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.
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!
In 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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?
7F 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
I 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?
Thanks to members of this community for looking out for one another, and thank you to American Express for its timely action.
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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!
7F — 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 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 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?”
Mark Allen: “Agile.”
JR: “Spell that.”
MA (irritated): “A-G-L-I-E!”
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.
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.
Art 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.
Arthur 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:
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.
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:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, August 29, 2016 8:42 AM
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
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.
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:
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].
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
[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.]
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.
One 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.
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.
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.
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.email@example.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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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:
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’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.
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.
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:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.)
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].
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
I 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.
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.”
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.
Earlier 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.
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.
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.
This firm’s business is so confidential that you’ll have to search carefully to find its own name on its website.
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.