St. Louis, Mo., Dec. 2, 2010 -
Consumers hoping to cash in on an advertised offer of “absolutely free” $2 bills may end up frustrated and disappointed, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.
The company behind the ad is World Reserve Monetary Exchange, Inc.
, of Canton, Ohio. “St. Louis area zip codes turn up free cash for residents,” said the headline on the advertisement which ran last month in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
. “Valuable uncut sheets of Missouri state $2 bills are actually being given away free.”
Michelle L. Corey, president and CEO of the BBB, said the only way to get the $8 in so-called free money is to buy 12 additional $2 bills at a cost of nearly $160. “It may sound bizarre, but this company is banking on people willing to pay $160 cash in return for $32. If you’re looking for novelty items to show your friends or family, you might be interested. But if you are looking for an investment, this is probably not the wisest choice.”
World Reserve Monetary Exchange and several affiliated businesses, including Universal Syndications, Inc.,
have advertised in newspapers and other publications nationwide, including Missouri and Illinois. The company is a division of Arthur Middleton Capital Holdings
of Ohio and Miami Beach, Fla., according to the holding company’s website. The holding company also oversees companies that have sold controversial Heat Surge heaters, healthcare plans and “free” digital TV converter boxes. The TV converter box ads were labeled misleading and confusing by the Columbus, Ohio, BBB in 2008.
More than 300 consumers have filed complaints against Universal Syndications/World Reserve Monetary Exchange with the BBB. Many of the complaints dealt with concerns over misleading ads, high-pressure sales tactics, an inability to get refunds and difficulty getting the company to stop charging for additional products.
Since 2007, attorneys general in at least three states have taken action against the firm. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal that year called on consumers to reject the company’s “phony discount offer” for sheets of $1 bills, as advertised in full-page newspaper ads. In May 2008, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley obtained an agreement from the company to stop running misleading coin and currency advertisements.
In July 2009, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett reached an agreement calling for the company to stop misleading advertising and to refund money to consumers. Corbett said the company’s full-page newspaper ads offering millions of dollars in surplus cash were deceptive. “These advertisements led people to believe that they could claim cash that was ‘up for grabs,’ but that was not the case at all,” Corbett said.
The newspaper ad for the $2 bills says: “St. Louis area residents who find their zip code on the distribution list will feel like they just won the lottery. That’s because for the next 48 hours, full uncut sheets of Missouri state overlaid $2 bills are being handed over free . . . directly to St. Louis area residents who beat the deadline.”
The ad quotes Jefferson Marshall, executive director of the private World Reserve. “Residents who want to get the free bills had better hurry and call now,” he said.
A company representative who spoke by phone to a BBB investigator posing as an interested consumer suggested that he purchase as many of the bills as possible. “I think it is a very good investment, and that’s why we are offering it,” she said. “Our lines have been really, really busy today with people making these purchases.”
The representative said that the only way to get the four free $2 bills was to purchase a set of 12 of the bills for $158.88, with shipping. She said she would process an order for five sets of the bills, never indicating the total cost of more than $700.
Robert Kravitz of Chesterfield, Mo., a board member of the Missouri Numismatic Society, a national board member of the Society of Paper Money Collectors and a coin and currency dealer and collector for 40 years, said the offer is misleading. Kravitz noted that millions of $2 bills are available at face value and said the addition of the overlays of the Gateway Arch and St. Louis skyline actually would reduce the value to a serious collector. “These $2 dollar bills are never going to be worth more than two bucks,” he said.
A resident of Fredericktown, Mo., told the BBB that he had responded to a July advertisement offering the Missouri overlaid $2 bills. He said he thought he was getting 16 of the bills for $61, but received only four.
A week later, the man received a package with an Oregon overlaid $2 bill and discovered the company had enrolled him in an ongoing $2 bill program that would charge his credit card $98 a month for six months, even though he never agreed to the program. After waiting on the phone for more than an hour, he ultimately was able to pull out of the program and get a refund.
A man from Union, Mo., said he phoned the toll-free number on the ad, in hopes of taking advantage of what he thought was an offer of free money. When he found his zip code among those listed, he said he thought, ‘hey, here’s my zip code; maybe I’m going to get something for free.’” Instead, he ended up giving a debit card number to a representative and soon after found his account debited nearly $800. He said he called the company and believes he was able to cancel the order. “I was a fool,” he said.
A woman in Brooklyn, N.Y., told the BBB that her 86-year-old father was victimized by the company this summer. She said he agreed to give his credit card number to a friend at his senior citizen center in order for her to buy some of the bills. Soon after receiving his order, the company sent him a second much larger shipment of the bills that he never ordered. The daughter said the company had begun charging monthly payments of more than $100 for the merchandise. She credited the BBB with helping her resolve the issue.
Officials with World Reserve Monetary Exchange declined to respond to questions from the St. Louis BBB regarding the advertisement.
The BBB suggests that consumers buying items offered as collectibles be extremely cautious. It offers the following tips when dealing with such advertised offers:
- Read the entire ad carefully, looking for disclaimers and other information that indicates the offer may not be what it seems. Make sure you understand exactly what you are ordering and how much it will cost, including shipping.
- Be wary of any offer that indicates the merchandise is a collectible and may increase in value. New items that are sold as collectibles often lose value.
- Be cautious of any company that advertises free merchandise. Such offers usually are contingent on purchasing other items.
- Be cautious of any company that advertises a time limit when offering merchandise. That is often done to create a false sense of urgency for the consumer.
- Contact the BBB for Reliability Reports by going to www.bbb.org or by calling 609-588-0808.