Fool's Gold

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

Although Haldane's advertising has for years boasted of a 98 percent rate placing thousands of clients, McClure did not reply to Turbeville with the names of just ten. In fact, he didn't reply at all, Turbeville says. And that put an end to Turbeville's investigation.

Granted, filing criminal charges against career-counseling scammers is next to impossible, since the contracts are usually airtight.

"They make the people think what they want to hear, but they never specifically say it, and then they put a disclaimer to that effect in writing, which has always made it very unattractive as a criminal prosecution," Turbeville says. "To sue them as an attorney general might…or to enjoin them is a completely different matter. You don't have to show individual culpability. You can show that the program as a whole tends to work a fraud on the people, or is deceptive."

Al Cameron
Al Cameron

So what about the Texas AG's office?

Its representatives didn't appear too interested until the Press informed them of other states' actions against their Haldane branches. Then we were told that the office is "actively engaged in this company."

In the meantime, consumers need to know what to look out for, and where to go for legitimate career counseling.

Greg Ash of the Federal Trade Commission warns against any companies that ask for fees up front. In most legitimate firms, the employer pays the fee.

"The problem is, you know if you're unemployed or underemployed, you're a little bit vulnerable," Ash says from his D.C. office. "That's when you should be most vigilant, because you are in a more vulnerable spot, and these executive recruiters are probably saying, 'Oh, you know, what's $6,000? We're going to get you a job where you can get $200,000…The dollar signs start floating in your eyes and you let your guard down."

Ash also warns that "There's no hidden job market -- that's a red flag. When they say, 'We have an inside connection to these job markets'…that's a red flag to me, because legitimate companies are very proud and will boast of the employers that they've placed people in."

And, simply put: Find out what the company actually is licensed for, not what it claims to be. Some companies will tell consumers they're in job placement but will tell the state, "We just counsel people."

The biggest red flag is if the salesperson verbally promises a job but tells the client to indicate otherwise on the contract.

"These salesman talk up a story," Ash says. " 'This is what we're going to do for you. That's just legalese our lawyers tell us to put in there.' It's like, there's a reason why the lawyers told you to put it in there…so when you don't get a job and you want your $6,000 back, you can't get it."

One place consumers might want to check out is the Texas Workforce Commission's free job site, www.workintexas.com, where employers and prospective employees can make that special love connection. According to the commission's Ann Hatchitt, roughly 109,000 of the state's 400,000 employers are registered on the site (these numbers are updated weekly). Competition's fierce, though: While the site recently listed about 45,000 open positions, there are more than 630,000 registered job seekers.

The commission also offers free career-counseling services. All you need to do is walk in to your nearest branch, and they'll help with your résumé and show you how to better market yourself, Hatchitt says.

Another free resource in Houston is Career and Recovery Resources, a United Way agency that provides career counseling for people from all walks of life.

There appear to be good, free resources out there. There does not appear to be a secret list.

But if you have a few G's to drop, you still might want to check out TCM International.

Before he stopped returning our phone calls, McClure assured us that his company had nothing to do with Haldane's history of shenanigans.

"We run a very clean, very straightforward operation in Houston," he said. "Please look at what TCM has done. That's all I'm asking."

Asked, and answered.

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