The call came in on the tipline at 314-444-3344. The voice on the recording said she sent a lot of money to a company called The Coffee Man, which claimed it manufactured and sold Continental Gourmet Coffee. But the caller never received what she had been promised and now she can't reach anybody at the company. My first reaction was, "Uh-oh, somebody's been scammed." But I had no idea how far and wide this scam reached, until I talked with Debbie Sullivan and then started checking out her story.
Debbie Sullivan and Virginia Welch, who live in the St. Louis area, invested more than $25,000 each, to be distributors of Continental Gourmet Coffee. An ad in USA Today caught their attention and after going to the company's website, www.continentaljava.com, thought it sounded like a good way to make extra money. The Coffee Man promised to set up free-standing displays, stocked with Continental Gourmet Coffee, in area stores. Distributors like Sullivan and Welch were to keep their assigned displays stocked and then share in the sales. After sending their money, The Coffee Man disappeared. No displays, no coffee, no refunds. Calls have poured into the Better Business Bureau offices in Colorado, since the company claimed it was headquartered there, from people with similar stories from New York to California. Victims have also complained to several federal agencies and posted their stories online. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is taking the lead in the investigation. At this point, the company's phones have been disconnected and the their website has been taken down, leaving little hope of recovering the hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of dollars from investors.
The Federal Trade Commission and Postal Inspection Service are eager to give potential investors tips that could help them spot scams like this. They say, the fact that The Coffee Man company guaranteed investors a monthly income should have been a red flag. They recommend that you talk face-to-face with other investors and point out you're entitled to detailed financial information on the company before you ever give them a dime. The top tip: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.