Troubleshooter or Troublemaker?
But I’ll say it, and I’ve got the
fax to back it up.
In three years as managing editor of
ColoradoBiz, I’ve grown used to an occasional company phoning to
complain that it was not notified about a top-company ranking it might
have qualified for. But until recently, I never thought I’d hear from
the representative of a company demanding $1,000 because we DID notify it.
That happened early this year, when
consumer advocate Tom Martino’s company, Fax Wars-Consumer Crusade,
demanded $1,000 in damages on behalf of a Fort Collins accounting firm,
Sample & Bailey.
The damage we inflicted: Twice last
year we faxed entry forms to Sample & Bailey for our annual “Top
Professional Services Companies list,” a statewide ranking based on
number of employees.
ColoradoBiz runs six annual lists, much
like the Top 250 Private Company rankings based on 2003 revenues you’ll
find in this issue. To notify companies of an upcoming list, we blast-fax
entry forms to firms from the previous year’s list; we individually fax
companies that have sent us press releases; and finally, we contact
companies we discover through word of mouth or any other means.
I have a policy that we call companies that
we don’t have a history with before sending a fax, not so much for legal
reasons, but because a fax not preceded by a call is about as effective as
a bottled message tossed in the Pacific.
But apparently we didn’t call Sample
& Bailey before faxing; I say “apparently” because I can’t
verify it one way or another. I simply don’t keep seven-month-old phone
records lying around.
But more to the point: After being notified
of this pending $1,000 hit, I called Sample & Bailey President Roger
Sample and left a voice mail, explaining that we weren’t trying to sell
him anything with our faxes. Sample called back promptly and assured me he
had no interest in collecting money from us.
He vowed to do his best to call off
Martino’s fax hounds. He even admitted he wasn’t quite sure how
his company was benefiting as a customer of Consumer Crusade.
“I know we have something where we give
these faxes that come in to somebody for some reason, but quite frankly,
I’ll be honest, I don’t know who it is and why,” said the president
of the company we faxed. “But certainly I’m very supportive of
trying to get this thing unraveled. We certainly have no vindictive
nature on this. Let’s work together and see what we can do to help you
I think Sample did all he could. His firm
called Consumer Crusade lawyers and explained that the faxes in question
were not sales pitches and should not have been included in the junk-fax
pile earmarked for Tom Martino’s anti-fax crusade. In the end, Sample
& Bailey’s effort, though appreciated, didn’t help much. For
reasons maybe only lawyers would understand, we settled with Martino’s
Consumer Crusade for $500. Of that, Sample & Bailey figures to get the
typical cut — $25.
What is that — maybe eight minutes of an
accountant’s hourly rate? Throw in the firm’s time wasted on the phone
with me, and seeing its good name dragged through this column — not a
That’s why it’s hard to see how Tom
Martino, consumer advocate that he is, can believe he is helping the
consumer — or even a customer like Sample & Bailey — with his
indiscriminant war on faxes. Instead of painstakingly examining
questionable faxes and their origin one by one, it seems he’s taking the
economical route and dropping a bomb on them all — imploring recipients
of junk faxes to bundle them up, send them to Consumer Crusade and
possibly earn $25 for each fax successfully collected on.
It’s disturbing to think we might need a
new Tom Martino just to troubleshoot the current Tom Martino: A
Troubleshooter Mini-Me, not as big as the original, but at least one
without business interests — such as Martino’s Consumer Crusade, his
fee-based Troubleshooter Network, his paid radio testimonial ads, and his
Liberty Bell Telephone Co. — a stable of business interests that seem at
odds with his role as a consumer advocate.
Back on June 11 when I first checked out
Martino’s site, www.faxwars.com, you could find this boast: “YOUR JUNK
FAXES CAN BECOME A NEW STREAM OF CASH FLOW FOR YOU. ” What the
site didn’t say is that Consumer Crusade gives damaged “customers”
only 1/20th of the settlement.
Recently I looked again at Martino’s
Curiously, much of the late-night
infomercial bluster from two months earlier had disappeared, kind of like
Martino’s trademark mustache. Maybe part of the toning down is owed to
heat from a genuine consumer-advocate site, faxwar.com (singular), erected
by a businessman in litigation with Martino, Dale Finney. That site
details court cases and judges’ rulings related to fax litigation and
specifically takes Consumer Crusade’s business practices to task.
Whatever the reason, Martino’s “TURN
YOUR JUNK FAXES INTO CASH” pitch from June has been replaced by a less
avaricious “THE FAX WAR WANTS YOU!” Martino has even added on the site
that he’d love nothing more than everyone taking matters into their own
hands and suing the violators without his help.
Eileen Lerman has her doubts. The
Denver attorney is representing New York Deli News restaurant in a case
similar to ColoradoBiz’s, with at least one exception: The deli is being
sued for more than $15,000. Lerman says the deli only sent faxes —
announcing things like menu changes for people who order lunch from their
offices — to past customers of the restaurant.
“It’s like a factory,” Lerman says of
Consumer Crusade. “They’re just filing and filing and filing.
“I’m a small-business person, too,”
she says. “To have to deal with these people – it’s extortion.
“I personally love being a lawyer. I’ve
been doing it for 35 years. And it bothers me when people make jokes
about lawyers. But this gives lawyers a bad name. I mean, it really
does. This is the bottom-feeder.”