Joey Esposito has a business opportunity for me. And he probably has one for you, too.
I don't know Joey -- in fact, Joey Esposito isn't even his real name, but it'll work for our purposes. I received a message from Joey recently through my Facebook account. He wrote:
I saw that you're a UPenn alumnus. Do you have a background in business, management, athletics or marketing?
The note was specific enough to catch my eye and yet so utterly generic -- and out of the blue -- to get my guard up. Nevertheless, I'm a sucker and vulnerable to flattery (somebody is interested in me!) so I wrote back.
Yes, I told Joey, I am indeed a UPenn grad -- a fact that can be easily seen from my public-facing Facebook profile -- and I do have some background in the areas mentioned. I sat back and waited for the opportunity of a lifetime to be laid in my lap.
The next message from Joey asked me whether I'm "keeping [my] business options open." I replied that yes, of course, I am, since the right get-rich-quick scheme is always just around the next corner. However, I did ask that he send me some more detail on this wonderful opportunity.
What I got in return was the Web address for Global Business Solutions, a deliciously generic website peppered with enough buzzwords to make a venture capitalist's head explode. For a good laugh, visit the website, but here's a sample:
By disrupting the distribution chain and shifting business online we are able to lower your operating costs and expand your presence in the market place. You will no longer be bound by geography and can now make your impact in the global market. Your presence and image are very important to us.
Meanwhile, the website boasts a "portfolio" that includes companies such as Sears Holdings, Best Buy, and Sprint Nextel -- all with pictures that appear to have been taken from the parking lots of the companies' retail outlets.
Also notable was the fact that though the website claims that GBS has been active for the past 50 years, a search on the WhoIs database shows that the website was just created last November. And in the areas where there should be information about who registered the website, there's contact information for the Web-hosting company Hostmonster.com. I called HostMonster and asked them about this and they said they're being paid to keep the name of the registrant private. For comparison, I looked up other businesses on WhoIs including Facebook, Best Buy, Trader Joe's, and a local running-shoe store -- none had their registration information blocked.
Because I tend to be like a dog with a bone with this kind of stuff, I went a bit further. I managed to find a sparse Facebook page for Global Business Solutions (158 likes!) as well as a New York-focused incarnation. There were also scores of young men -- ages 20 to 22 seemed to be a hot spot -- sporting ties on Facebook and listing an affiliation to Global Business Solutions. Many claimed to be CEO, president, owner, or co-owner.
As for my pal Joey, neither his Facebook nor LinkedIn profile had any mention of GBS -- he simply listed himself variously as "business entrepreneur," "senior partner," and "visionary."
I did manage to track down an email address for one of the other GBS faithful -- we'll call him Mike -- who listed himself as a "social media consultant" with the company. Mike returned my emails, but was unfortunately resistant to my sweet talk when I tried to get him to reveal to me what in the blue blazes Global Business Solutions is. His response:
I would highly recommend you reach out to whoever contacted you and allow them to invite you to one of our informational seminars. During which, you will find out for yourself exactly what we do and how we operate. Through my experience I have learned that intelligent people take a look at an opportunity prior to forming an opinion on it. What I can tell you is that we are in business over 50 years and work with some of the most trusted, most recognized brands in existence today.
I see you're a journalist-so get the facts for yourself. My 7 years with the company highly encourages it. You won't be disappointed.
This much seemed clear to me: Despite what Mike had to say, it appeared that intelligence had little to do with any of this -- on my part or theirs.
For the love of a scam
Global Business Solutions may not be an outright scam. Perhaps it's just a questionable type of multilevel marketing scheme.
Either way, there wasn't anything special about the message I got from Joey Esposito -- maybe he is a fraudster looking for a target or maybe an MLM tout looking for a, well, target. I don't know. But I'd be lying if I didn't say there wasn't a moment when I first got that email when my head was buzzing with "Well, what if, Matt? What if some great opportunity has tracked you down because you're just so darn awesome?"
Laugh at me if you will, but I think we've all been there.
And this is what's really, really dangerous about the financial world in particular. If we're not careful about keeping an eye on that "what if" to make sure it doesn't turn into an "oh, yeah!" then we can get into real trouble.
The Facebook message from Joey came at an interesting time since our team at the Fool just finished wrapping up a huge special report on the financial advice industry -- a place where that "what if" can get seriously out of control. In the process of talking with many customers, brokers, advisors, and other industry experts for that project, one of the key pieces of advice that came up over and over again was to avoid judging an advisor based simply on investment performance. Or, as FINRA's Gerri Walsh put it, "Focusing on past performance can get you into a danger zone."
You may never hear from Joey Esposito or anyone else at Global Business Solutions. However, at some point or another -- and likely many times throughout your life -- you will likely hear from someone promising something big in return for something small. Perhaps it's a financial advisor saying he can guarantee you returns that will beat the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC ) . Maybe it'll be a broker calling out of the blue telling you that he's got a "special opportunity" to invest in private company. Or heck, it could be some braggart at a cocktail party talking about a sure-thing stock that's bound to quadruple in the next few months.
When it happens, go ahead and have your "what if" moment -- it's natural. But after that moment, arm yourself with one of the handiest cliches out there: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.