Troubled Company Brings Get-Rich Pitch to Middle Tennessee
(Story created: 2/28/05)
How'd you like to retire and never have to worry again about money? A company out of California promises just that. They recently came to Nashville promoting "a remarkable money making opportunity."
NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus went undercover to check out the company's claims and find out why many say this so called opportunity doesn't make dollars or sense.
A couple of coins dropped in a vending machine is all it takes to get a drink and a snack.
And, some claims, that's all it takes to set you on your way on the road to riches.
Dana Bashor and his company -- which goes by the names of Antares and Natural Choice -- promise you can make more money than you've ever dreamed and enjoy a life of leisure just by owning a couple of vending machines.
In a company video, Bashor looks into the camera and says, "Think about having the time to pursue your dreams."
We went undercover at one of the company's seminars where company representatives told a hotel banquet room full of people that selling snack is easy money and the way to wealth.
The key speaker at the seminar we attended told the audience, "When you own your own business, let me tell you about the doors that are going to open up for you."
"It was a good sales pitch," says Joan Stinson.
Stinson went to a seminar like the one we did and ended up buying four of the company's vending machines.
"Did the money just start rolling in then?" Kraus asks Stinson, who shakes her head.
'No, no, no."
Stinson says she would have been happy simply breaking even or even recouping her investment. But she says, despite the company's assurances, "I never saw any profit."
Now Stinson says she understands why attorneys general and Better Business Bureaus across the country have issued stern warnings about the company and its claims.
The company sells its machines for $6,000 a piece, substantially more than most vending machines. But they maintain you can quickly recoup your investment and make at least 50 percent profit.
At the seminar, we were told, "Here's what you get: About $6,500 in sales per year per location."
But Joan Stinson tells us based on her experience, "That's wrong. We found out."
The company also maintains it's easy to find locations for your machines. And, if you have trouble, they'll help.
"Our goal is to help you find the best locations for this equipment," a salesman at the seminar we attended told potential investors.
But Stinson says, "No, they don't go get them for you -- of course not."
In fact, Stinson not only had to find locations herself. When she finally did, she says they were more than 40 miles from her home.
But the company's own video with testimonials from what it says are satisfied customers is what Stinson calls the biggest deception.
In the video, about a dozen people talk about all the money they're bringing in with their vending machine businesses and say things like, "It's incredible to get the money" and "You start turning a profit almost immediately."
These people giving testimonials and so-called volunteers at the seminar are more than happy to share their success stories.
Mary Clement, director of the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs, says, "They're hoping that people will see this and they will say that could be me."
But we found that the "volunteers" at the seminar as well as the people featured in the company's video are all being paid.
Clement says that's a big red flag.
"When you're being compensated, you have a motivation," the consumer affairs director adds.
Nine years ago, the federal government fined the company a million dollars for among other things, misrepresenting the amount of money investors can make.
The company also got in trouble for not disclosing that the people in the video are paid and that their "success stories" are more the exception than the rule.
In one of the company's videos, Dana Bashor, the founder, calls the company, "One of the most successful business opportunities in the country today."
The company insists it's done nothing wrong and, in fact, at the seminar where we went undercover, the main speaker told the audience the company's "got a solid reputation."
But after the seminar, when we tried to find out more, company representatives told us we couldn't come in and that we weren't allowed to bring our camera in the room.
They called security and ordered us to leave the premises. We tried one last time to ask about the company and one employee slammed the door in our face.
Now, the company has held seminars like this in the Nashville area for several years. So we asked them to give us the name of at least one satisfied customer in Middle Tennessee.
But they never did. In fact, they never returned any of our phone calls.
As for Joan Stinson, she ended up selling her machines for a lot less than she paid for them after a couple of years of not making any money with them.
And while consumers across the country have filed complaints against Antares and Natural Choice, no one from Tennessee has complained to the state.