"I'm not able to connect you or give you the name of [the shipping manager], but I will take your information and forward it on." Click.
"I'm busy. Can I call you back when I have more time?" Click.
"We tried this with other companies, and it's too much of a hassle, so we're not interested." Click.
Stroke runs in my family, and as I made call after call, I could feel a pounding deep in my frontal lobe. I began to fear that despite the reassurances of the training manual, making those 1,000 calls to get that first customer might actually cause my head to explode. I repeatedly e-mailed the Refund Recovery customer service address (firstname.lastname@example.org) asking to be put in touch with George Milovic or some of the other people who said they were able to quit their jobs and live off their Refund Recovery money. I thought that instead of hiring my own staff, I could offer to work for them. I got one e-mail from someone named Abbe who gave me a list of more sales scripts ("Good morning. Your overnight carrier owes you thousands of dollars for late delivery and I can collect that money for you!"). After that, no one answered.
A Google search on George Milovic came up with two hits, one for Refund Recovery and one for something called the Real E-Gold Investment Scheme. The title was a nice touch, I thought, "scheme" being so much classier than "scam." George and the same nurse and teacher who had quit their jobs to do Refund Recovery gave the same testimonials about the wonders of E-Gold. As I read them, I realized a career in Refund Recovery had about the same prospect of advancement as a job in the Iraq Ministry of Information.
The Federal Trade Commission takes a dim view of jobs that come to you through e-mail, that require you to pay to get started, and that are unlikely to yield a single client after 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 calls. Though the FTC does not specifically mention the wonders of Refund Recovery, you can read its warnings here.
After getting as close as I could to calling 1,000 companies—11 to be exact—I closed my business. But I had to find out if there were real companies doing refund recovery. This led me to Mark Taylor of Taylor Systems Engineering Corp. in Michigan, who creates shipping software for companies. He says he thinks he came up with the refund recovery business in the mid-'90s. "I started it, and I haven't gotten rich from it," he says. For a while he was getting back significant money for his clients and had enough business that he hired a staff. But neither UPS nor FedEx were amused by Taylor's work. UPS wrote regulations that allow the company to exclude third parties from collecting refunds. And FedEx, he says, started offering high-volume customers a discount if they agreed not to track late fees. (FedEx declines to comment on contracts with clients.) The refund recovery part of Taylor's business died.
He does however get calls and letters and e-mails from people like me who spent $88 to get into the refund recovery business. He says he never answers them.
In Human Guinea Pig, I take strange jobs, sample peculiar therapies, pick up odd hobbies, and generally try the activities that my colleagues have always wondered about but don't have the guts to do themselves. (What happens when you take one of those free-vacation-if-you-look-at-this-Florida-condo vacations? What would a plastic surgeon do to your face?)
If you have an idea for something I ought to do, please e-mail me at email@example.com.