It started with a phone message.
Our alternator/starter business was in it's first year, and running out of funds. We were worried, because even though many people had told us they were glad we had started the business in the area, our business was beginning to run out of funds. We were beginning to wonder if we had started the wrong business, and panic. We were ripe for the picking....
The phone message was from a grant company that was looking to help small businesses. We wondered why they called us. That was the first brick of sanity to fall, because we felt special like we qualified for some list. But still we discussed whether or not we should call, and returned the call out of curiosity.
We first spoke to Rosa Zuniga. She set up the phone interview with Salvatore Mendoza, Grant Eligibility Specialist. The date was February 26, 2009. This was the largest part of the mesmerizing process for us. We talked on two different lines with Mr. Mendoza, while he got us to dream at levels we never had before. "No, dream bigger! Do you want a new building? Do you need vehicles? Inventory?" He seemed to be looking at information that told him so much about our area, and what businesses were here, and told us that we were in the right place. He first talked to us about thinking of asking for money in certain ways that I had heard about, like putting the business in the minority's name, or making sure we wanted to hire people. The most important one for my husband was when he suggested asking for funds so that he could help people, which especially appealed to him.
We really did try to keep watching for signs of it being a scam, but more sanity bricks fell off the wall of our reason. At the end of an almost 30 minute phone call, we were breathless with the thoughts of a bigger business able to hire several of our out-of-work friends, giddy with the idea of being able to pay off several loans from friends and family who helped us.
Still, trying to slap ourselves on the face and come back to earth, we followed Mr. Mendoza's advice, (thinking to ourselves, we were going to anyway and pretend we weren't being led by the nose...) we checked out the BBB Reliability Reports. The three complaints were there and 2 of them were resolved and one was not. We didn't figure that the scammers were so good they could control the Better Business Bureau.... There go more bricks.
For con-artists, they were extremely well-organized. The paperwork was official looking, and made sense to us. It matched the process that others we had talked to that had gone through the headaches of writing their own grants. The fine print of the "service agreement" stated that GB Funding would charge the first part of $7500.00 for a retainer fee. This sounded very lawyer-like, so we made some sacrifices, came up with $1875 at first. Our service agreement, dated March 5, 2009, with the names Hapi Lightfood and Rosa Auniga on it, said that the remaining $1875.00 would be matched by Global.
The next section of sanity bricks came down after the conversation with Mr. Jeff King, Director of Corporate Funding. Wow, talk about the proverbial silver tongue. (Again, thinking to ourselves, what kind of scam would have an entire staff?) Mr. King explained that he was a kind of lobbyist. He had to go to these organizations and do the whole "schmooze" thing. He set us up well. He talked about another woman who did not want the funds (giving validity to the existence of such funds in our minds) because she was going through a divorce and did not want her husband to get half. He told us that he enjoyed talking to us because we were such "real" people and he had to deal with such rich and phony people all of the time. He then began to say that he was looking at our request amount, and did not think we were asking enough. He suggested $100,000 for a general fund and that another $100,000 would be needed to hire the employees we wanted.
So we were again ready to agree to send him more money when he said he needed it to get the grant writers to get the letters of intent out that weekend. We struggled to get another $2700.00 together and sent to him to start, even though he requested $4500.00. Later, we asked friends if they could loan us some money. When they agreed, Dave started getting a little stubborn about sending it (thank the Lord) unless we could talk to Jeff King, but Jeff stopped answering our messages.
The money that we paid out hurt us. But I especially felt it when I responded to the next section...the Request for Supplemental Documents. Again we thought, "Why would crooks want us to provide so much paperwork?" Also the statement wishing us to provide the information ASAP in itself in our minds gave it validity.
All of the requested sections were in the structure of a business plan, so I re-worked an existing business plan, 18 pages of it, for four days, 12 hours a day, to have it ready within the 7 day limit given to us. After I faxed our business plan to them, I called to make sure they got it. Again I talked to someone completely different, some girl, who assured me that they had it. I don't know...maybe I was a little disappointed at that point because I was hoping someone would say, "This is the greatest business plan on the planet! For all of your hard work, it will be easy to get you billions and billions of dollars......!" I faxed it April 8, 2009.
Then, we called once a week after that. Since by that time, we would have probably believed them if they said our children were really Martian, we believed them when they said the process would take approximately 45 days. But they said we could call and check on the process. The only person we could get to talk to us was this Carlos, and his answers began to seem dictated and uninformed. Still, we were too numb to get a clue yet.
On Wednesday, May 27, I called in the afternoon. I felt the blood leave my head when the operator said I had reached a line that was no longer in service. I went online and typed "GB Funding" in the search line, and saw the Ripoffs.com come up with a report on GB Funding. I then read the report that was so close to our story, my heart stopped.
We have been numb for two days. We know that people have been ripped off for much more money, but we have disappointed so many people, too. I hope this helps someone. We don't know what to do now....
Canon City, Colorado