You'd think there'd be a surefire way to spot scams. Take the television infomercials of Matthew Lesko, for example. Wearing a chartreuse suit covered in question marks, Lesko shouts his claims to viewers: "Free car repairs!" "Big discounts on boats, limos and airplanes!" "Ten percent off your restaurant bill!"
His sales pitch is working. By putting a new spin on free, public information, Lesko's made a fortune with dozens of something-for-nothing books, such as "Free Stuff For Everyone" and "Free Money to Change Your Life."
Since Lesko started hawking his books, which are really just repackaged lists of government grants and public assistance programs in the U.S., Lesko has sold 3.5 million books at $40 each. And that doesn't even count the income he's received from sales of audiocassettes and DVDs or speaking engagements.
Although the New York State Consumer Protection Board has tracked Lesko's claims and described them as deceptive, he continues to attract an audience. Unfortunately, the information may not be that helpful to their pocketbooks. When Lesko touts "free car repairs" he's actually referring to auto manufacturer recalls. Big discounts on boats and other luxury transportation? It's primarily property seized from drug dealers and sold at government auction. And if you'd really like to get a 10 percent discount at dinner, then find out when the early-bird special starts at your local restaurant [source: Jamieson].
Despite the 25-page report that listed the board's concerns in 2005, Lesko's empire remains undisturbed. Turns out, even when it should be easy to spot a potential money-making scam, most people are eternal optimists. If you think you might be able to earn lots of money stuffing envelopes, working as a mystery shopper or waiting for a Nigerian prince to wire the millions he promised in his last email, then you should definitely keep reading this article.