Fool's Gold

Desperate clients hand over thousands of dollars for a chance at a job

It appears that McClure and other Haldane reps sent out so many form letters in response to complainants that, in at least one case, a client received a letter with another client's name on it. None of the complainants received a full refund.

"There's a hot-spot in BBB hell" for career-counseling scammers, opines Houston BBB President Dan Parsons. Parsons has battled for tighter regulation of the industry since the late 1980s. He says fraud flourishes through greed and vanity, but it's particularly slimy when predators target desperation.

In many states, employment firms have to be licensed for their specialties, be it job placement or a hodgepodge of "sell yourself" skills called career-counseling. Career counselors are not supposed to say they can get you a particular job at a particular firm; rather, they tell you how to make yourself stand out among all the other competitors for a certain type of job. But by the 1980s, career-counseling services started doing just that, Parsons says. Complaints appeared to taper off in the 1990s, perhaps because of a better economy, or the fact that there got to be more career-counseling services than schnooks. Haldane's mid-1990s SEC filings (when it was a public company) warn of dwindling returns in the face of a saturated market.

Al Cameron
Al Cameron

Parsons says the scams are slowly creeping back up, hitting older outplaced executives especially hard. His crusade for tighter control over these companies was rebuffed in June, when the state legislature told the Texas Department of Licensing that it no longer has to license career-counseling firms. As a result, all pending investigations and disciplinary actions were eliminated, and the department had to refund the firms' bonds.

While Texas was cutting a check to Haldane, attorneys general in other states decided to sue the company for fraud. In Kansas, Haldane offices were forced to refund $300,000 to consumers in 2002. The offices did not admit any wrongdoing.

A year later, Illinois AG Lisa Madigan filed suit and appeared on a CBS special about Haldane, saying, "They are giving people false hope, but what they're getting is a lot of people's money for it." Last year, Minnesota AG Mike Hatch filed the most detailed suit yet against the company, including excerpts of a sales script highlighting the Minnesota offices' illegal tactics:

[During the initial interview] do not get into debates over how we work with clients. If they blurt out, "Do you charge a fee," or "is there a fee for this," or "who pays the fee?" You say "NO."

Tell the client the next two months are crucial, no matter what time of year it is. Clients who come in between Sept.-Nov. should be told "the market [is] heating up in January, you have to make all your contacts in the fourth quarter, or you will not be in the January rush." Clients who come in between March-May should be told "you need to get hired before school lets out." Those who come in during June or July should be told that "you need to get in before school starts." [This tactic appears in a Houston BBB complaint.]

Current and former Haldane franchisees outside those states say they shouldn't be lumped in with the bad eggs. McClure is not an exception. In a statement issued to the Press, McClure described his staff as "dedicated professionals whose only purpose is to ensure the career success of our clients…TCM is not affiliated with Bernard Haldane Associates. We are a distinctly different company offering different services, approaches and benefits to our clients."

Which begs the question, What the hell is TCM International?

Its Web site doesn't do much to explain. The site claims that the company is "the Southeast Texas branch of a worldwide career management and marketing association," an awkward statement implying the "marketing association" has a name other than TCM International. But if that's so, it's never named, and there are no links to branch offices or corporate HQ. The only TCM Internationals that LexisNexis and Google turn up are a European tool company, a "traditional Chinese medicine" supplier and a Christian ministry in Indianapolis.

Furthermore, up until August 11, the only client testimonials posted on the Web site had been lifted verbatim from testimonials on the BH Careers site. Those testimonials purportedly came from satisfied customers, identified only by initials, from BH Careers' Tampa office. The day after the Press asked TCM International's attorney why that was, the testimonials were removed from TCM International's site, and the entire Tampa office disappeared from BH Careers.'

Confused yet? Just wait.

In his statement to the Press, McClure is identified as the company's president. But in a "Background Information Questionnaire," the president is identified as none other than Cincinnati's Geoff Coy. (Coy appears to have ditched the Haldane name in Ohio, settling on the bland but functional Geoff Coy Management Group. He did not return our phone calls.)

In order to clear up the confusion, the Press went all 60 Minutes on their ass and sent in our own applicant. But first, we need to talk Jerold Weinger, the birth of Bernard Haldane and the truth behind the "secret" job market. And that's where things get really tricky.

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