The Utah Division of Consumer Protection concluded this week a lengthy investigation into a telemarketing company in Provo by entering a legal agreement with the company requiring it to implement several practices intended to protect consumers.
The company, McKinley Institute - which employs nearly 300 people in Utah County - signed the assurance of voluntary compliance as a cooperative conclusion to the investigation.The institute is a financial consulting firm that opened in Provo in 1986. It also has been known as Allen Wealth Systems and Millionaire Consulting Service. In June, the company announced that columnist Jack Anderson and entertainers Alan and Jimmy Osmond were paid associates of the firm.
The Consumer Protection Division investigated the company in response to numerous complaints made to the state office and other protection services throughout the nation.
"Those complaints consisted of not delivering services, failure to refund monies and misrepresentation in advertising," said Dixie Minson, director of the division.
The Utah Better Business Bureau also has received scores of complaints from unhappy clients. Since January of this year, it has also received 3,750 inquiries from people across the nation who have been contacted by the firm.
"Not one of the complaints had been proven," said Thomas Karrenberg, legal counsel for the firm. "The complaints are only allegations. In my opinion, they have had far fewer complaints than the average telemarketing business and the ratio would probably be considered very good for any business."
Some who complained said the company disguised its advertising as personal correspondence. The company sent advertisements to people in hand-addressed envelopes. The advertisement resembled a newspaper article, said Bill Beadle, director of the Utah Better Business Bureau. A hand-written note was attached to the article that says: "This really works. You should check it out. John"
Many assumed that an acquaintance had tried the service, saved the article, attached the note and sent it to them as a helpful gesture.
"We just tell people that the handwritten note is attributed to a McKinley consultant," said Bill Beadle, president of the Better Business Bureau.
The company provides consultation to people anxious to improve their financial status, Karrenberg said. Clients are asked to select their financial goals - including opening a business if they wish - and the company helps them realize their goals.
The client pays about $700 for the service, Beadle said.
Since Anderson and the Osmonds joined the firm in June, the institute has worked hard to resolve complaints against it, Beadle said.
"They've taken care of everybody, sent them their money back. It's to the point now where they make an effort to call us almost daily to see if there have been any complaints coming in."
"They wanted to get things straightened up so there would be no legal action taken, and they wanted to comply with the law. They assured us they would voluntarily comply with Utah statute," Minson said.
Karrenberg described the institute as an educational program. "Clients get both printed materials and they get access to a staff of highly qualified consultants, who can assist someone in following up their own idea. The program requires them to spend a certain amount of hours per week on their idea and to consult with the consultant on a regular basis. If they do that, there is a money-back guarantee if they aren't satisfied after 12 months."
The company is one of the biggest employers in Utah County, he said. "There are 300 people on payroll and approximately 25 consultants," he said. "It's a very healthy part of Utah economy. Theirs is a very good product. I think you would probably find you have far more people satisfied with that product than you have complaints. It is a unique product people need and can't find any place else."
The compliance agreement stipulates all clients must speak with a compliance control officer before enrolling in the program. The officer must read the compliance text aloud to the client, obtaining audible answers to all questions. The interview must be taped and kept on file for one year.
Clients who comply with the refund guarantee must receive their money back. The institute must maintain a minimum balance of $25,000 to fund projected refunds.
The institute must employ one consultant for every 32 phone calls. It must review all printed information regarding the credentials of its consultants and change any false or misleading statements.