Be skeptical of pitches at 'free' seminars

Two words that now scare Amanda Veloz: free seminar. She attended one at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel, and as a 24-year-old she readily admits she did not know what she was doing.

The salespeople at the front of the room were making a persuasive argument about how anyone can invest in the purchase of tax liens in bulk investment packages and earn up to a 16 percent profit while working from home. All that's needed is a computer and the company's interactive website. Riches pour in.

"They made it sound so amazing," says Veloz, a plumbing designer trying to get ahead in life.

At this point, The Watchdog wants to grab Veloz and shake her. "Don't do it!" But it's too late. Her story continues.

Next thing Veloz knew, she was pulling out her credit card and agreeing to pay $1,497 to join the program.

She signed up with SKW Central. SKW is Sean Keegan Walker, the company founder. The company also goes by the name of and Sean Keegan Walker's Tax Lien and Deeds.

At the end of the company video, Walker promises, "I want you to know we're here for you when you need us."

Veloz said that's not what she found. She waited for someone from the company to contact her, as had been promised, but nobody did. By the second week, she grew antsy. She researched the company on the Internet and found negative comments.

She contacted the company, but she says she was ignored. So she complained to her credit card company and filed a chargeback. The company fought the complaint and proved that Veloz had signed a proper agreement when she purchased the program.

She didn't know what to do next. Then, at work, she went into a break room and saw a Star-Telegram on the counter. That's when she got the idea to contact The Watchdog.

What caught my eye was the runaround Veloz says she got every time she called the company's customer service line. Supervisors wouldn't come to the phone or call her back. Nobody would help her either with the program or with her efforts to cancel.

"I never found it so hard to get a hold of someone," she complains. "It's more stressful when the 'friendly customer service reps' that were promised at the seminar are rude and unhelpful and not understanding or caring."

The Watchdog contacted the company. After receiving the e-mail, customer service manager Derek Webb contacted Veloz and, after a 20-minute conversation, gave her a full refund.

Bill Knowlton, an attorney that represents SKW Central, told me: "I believe this is an isolated incident." Webb told me this week that at least twice Veloz should have received a call back. "We didn't get back to her in a timely fashion, and that caused her to feel the way she did about the whole situation," he said. "But I know it's since been resolved. And processes are in place so it is definitely not going to happen again."

Two months before, Webb made a similar comment when he responded on a public website to a different customer's complaint. The customer had complained that after he signed up for the program, nobody in customer service would return his calls. So the customer made a protest video and posted it on the Internet. Webb called him and asked him to take it off, the customer wrote.

In his response in the comments section, Webb wrote, "We did not take care of this customer as we should have. It's inexcusable."

Webb told me that the program is not a "buy-it-and-you're-on-your-own" package. Customers set up their own accounts and work online. "If they get scared or stuck, there are multiple ways to contact us and get that resolved," he assured.

The company package is a good value, company literature states, because customers get access to tax lien lists in various states, a calendar of auction dates and locations and "thorough training."

In general, the Better Business Bureau warns sales seminar participants to "take your time" before buying.

Don't rush into anything. Avoid high-pressure sales pitches. Check out the company first. Learn the refund policy before you buy, and even then, be skeptical.

Coming Sunday: An identity theft caper that ensnared seniors and the nursing homes in which they live.

The Watchdog column appears Fridays and Sundays.

Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043

Twitter: @davelieber