Last year I was contacted by Bernhard Van Meelen with Joint Capital Assistance out of the Netherlands.
He stated that his "firm" had become aware of my project, an online virtual world and that we were seeking capital to fund the rest of the project. He expressed great enthusiasm which at the time seemed genuine.
I informed Bernhard however that I knew there were a lot of scams out there looking to take advantage of naive young entrepreneurs by promising to help give birth to their hopes and dreams in finding funding for their project(s). As is often the case in these scenarios, it sounded too good to be true. Then Bernhard asked that we retain his firm for the US equivalent of $14,000.00. I informed Bernhard that up until this point, our company was funded 100% by monthly angel investment from only a few sources and that we didn't even keep any money of our own. We filled out the invoices for the work, they paid the bills, and that's how it worked.
Bernhard furnished me with a list of people they have "helped" to prove their bonifidas. I called every name on the list but was only able to get ahold of one person; a woman who stated she had "moved millions of dollars through Bernhard". It didn't occur to me at the time to ask her how much she was being paid on commission to say that. I was too star struck at the possibility of large scale funding.
But still, I told Bernhard and his boss Waltraud both, "Thanks, but I don't even have that much money period." They then began emailing me and calling my phone furiously plastering a plush dream of how perfect my life would be as the CEO of a company doing what i wanted to do, but doing more than just getting by prostrating myself monthly to angels in a desperate plea to keep the money flowing. In essense, they wore me down. After a couple weeks of this, Bernhard finally stated that they would be willing to lower their fee to the equivalent of $8,000.00 US, and again I said no thanks, but they persisted.
I informed Bernhard that even if I had that much money, it would be foolish for me to spend it because (and this is the worst part) my mother had just been diagnosed with an illness disabling her for a minimum of 6 months and she would require medication and assistance at some degree the rest of her life, and that was just the good scenario. If she took a turn for the worst, my family would have to scrape everything we had left to see she got the care she needed.
Again, Bernhard whittled away at me for weeks until I eventually borrowed the money it took to pay his fee and sank myself in. My family did not approve and in retrospect if I had only listened to my father, none of this would have happened, but I was a naive 27 year old entrepreneur taken under the wing of a dragon.
Before signing anything and before wiring ANY money at all, I took a few communications to be absolutely 100% crystal-clear certain that both Bernhard and Waltraud knew without a shadow of a doubt that I absolutely positively WOULD NOT be spending one penny more on this after the retainer. I told Bernhard that I had been told on many occasions that there are scammers out there who sucker you into paying their fees and then once they have you, telling you later that you have to pay more money for "due dilligence" which could be even more than you already paid.
I drilled it into Bernhard over and over that I absolutely positively would not do this and over and over he drilled into me "his confidence that he and JCA could locate the funding we needed taking into consideration our financial situation".
And then the red flags.
Shortly afterwards, I informed Bernhard that we had a brand new shiny businessplan. Bernhard responded that it would help us out, but they did not have need of it yet. A month passed, all along I can only assume i was meant to believe that Bernhard and JCA were "searching for funding for us" all the while not even having basic info about our business.
I emailed Bernhard once a week, and on average about once every 3 weeks he responded with a cookie-cutter "we are doing our best" email.
And then everything went to hell.
Almost 5 months had passed. Both my company and my family were stressed to the point of breaking. It had been a year since our financiers began funding us, and they had been told (by me) from day one that the goal of the prototype they were funding the creation of, was for the sole purpose of bringing in "bigger fish" and paying them off. With the economy souring, they were obviously concerned about their investment. This translated to employees being concerned about losing their jobs if the financiers pulled the plug. On top of this, things with my family took a turn for the worst. And then if that wasn't enough, I was locked in a legal battle with Citi financial because my ex from years past had apparently defaulted on her portion of the mortgage, and now they were coming after me for the full amount in her absence.
All of these problems would have been solved in the event we found any type of additional funding through Bernhard. Through the whole process of development, I proved my willingness to make sacrifices for the good of the company by living off of a salary of only $11,000.00 per year. I volunteered for this. With the funding Bernhard would have provided, my position in the fully-funded version of our business as CEO would have earned me just over $40,000.00 a year for the first year, which is still peanuts by most standards, but a great stepping stone to where I wanted to be when our product was finally launched. I could have paid off my debts, given people the security they needed, and taken care of my family.
Bernhard was 100% aware of all of this, and yet the weeks and months passed. Eventually my worst fears were realized.
One morning I had an email from Bernhard stating that not one but three parties were interested in funding our company. I was very happy at this news and agreed to fulfill any obligations required of me. Then I was informed that all three required money up front in the amounts of $20,000 to $40,000. This was devastating news to me. I'd been warned against this. I tried dozens of times to make Bernhard aware that I was aware of this kind of scam and that I wouldn't be giving anyone any up front money for anything. This was the biggest red flag to date and effectively crushed my hope of ever making back the money I had spent on Bernhard.
I politely informed Bernhard that we agreed this wouldn't be the case, and asked that he find us an investor who wouldn't require strange up-front costs without us even knowing the name of the "company" we would be wiring the money to.
Bernhard agreed to get right on that. Another month passed and nothing. Then Bernhard wrote me again with "we have another potential investor" who only required a few thousand dollars "good faith" money.
I slapped my forehead and realized what had happened to me. He wasn't even reading what I typed, or he thought I was an idiot. Either way, I knew how this was going to play out. I politely informed Bernhard one last time of our agreement, and his promises that he could find us funding without us having to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to spectres we know nothing about.
Over 3 weeks passed until today I received a response to that email stating that "rest assured that 99% will chrge you ".
The stark contrast of "we can find you money and not require you to pay additional costs" BEFORE i gave them my money and the "rest assured that 99% will chrge you" AFTER i had done so, really drove the message home.
Don't be an idiot like I was. You know in your gut when something sounds like a scam.
It brings me great dismay to find that my life has turned into a cautionary tale, but hopefully I can provide a little immunization for other wide-eyed entrepreneurs who might be as easily swept-away by promises of seeing ones wildest dreams come to fruition.
I cannot also stress enough, that these guys contacted me, not the other way around, and so i grimace when thinking about how many other entrepreneurs are probably contacted by them each year.