Consumerist Undercover At IDT Energy: The Job Interview

Midtown Promotions has no yellow pages entry, no website, and no apparent internet job postings. Cruising their profile on Rip Off Report, a site where, natch, consumers file complaints against companies they feel ripped them off, I found a number for Midtown Promotions main office. It took several discussions with the editor of The Consumerist before we felt we nailed down the approach to the first phone call…

Photo: The walls were the same color as their door, but much more faded. And ugly.

This is part 2 of our undercover report into IDT Energy, an energy reseller in the New York area…


Before I called, I set myself up with a new phone number using the free online service Grand Central. When someone dials this phone number, my cell phone rings and when I answer it, I am prompted with a message that gives me four options, one of which is to record the phone call. New York only requires one-party consent to record calls. I wanted to make sure I captured everything accurately.

Now, from what I’ve read, in all the ads DS-MAX put out for prospective new marketing slaves, there is always a contact person, female first name only, and the office’s main phone number. This name changes at different points so they can track where prospects come from. An old high school buddy of mine, who called me when he saw the first diary in this series, confirmed this, among other DS-MAX rumors. For his protection, like everyone else you’ll meet in this series, we’re giving him a pseudonym.

Jonathan worked for an East Hartford, CT based DS-MAX affiliate right after 9/11. He says they screwed him over almost daily, including when he was forced to pay for his own transportation, hotel, and expenses while attending a sales conference in New Jersey.

The lecturers there really worked him over, he says, using every trick in the book to get him to fall in love with his job. On returning to Connecticut, he was out at 11pm one night when a call came from the office, ordering him to come in immediately. He had an elderly underling of his in the backseat and made a quick illegal U-turn in the ghetto of Hartford. The police took one look at this odd couple, cuffed Jonathan, threw him on the front of his car, tore up his seat upholstery, and wrote him a $400 ticket. When Jonathan quit later that night, his employer didn’t reimburse him for his troubles. A several-hundred-dollar check for salary and reimbursable expenses promised to him by the company never materialized.

These were the type of people with whom I was desperately trying to get a job.

Ring, ring.
A female voice greeting me with, “Marketing!”
“Hi, good morning. Who do I speak to about getting a job in sales?” I asked.
“Hold on, please.”
After ten minutes, a new voice says, “We’re holding interviews today at 2:30. Can you make it?”
“Ah, yeah… sure.”
“Dress professional. 115 West 30th, fifth floor, suite 500, between 6th and 7th. Bring a resume. What’s your name and phone number?”
I gave them my real name and my new phone number.

The building directory listed “Figueroa Marketing” as occupying Midtown Promotion’s same office space.

midtownpromotionsoffice.jpgThe office, pictured at right, reminded me of the offices in movies about conmen, which always seem to choose as their setting cheap, drab rented spaces, with hustling employees and ringing phones. Then, when the jig was about up, we see the same place, except emptied, and decaying. Midtown Promotion’s office was already decaying. Dust spun between the bare, faded-green walls. It didn’t matter what else was in the room, even the nice leather couches and sleek glass receptionist’s desk couldn’t offset the walls’ hideous glare.

On the sofa across from me sat a fidgeting, endlessly jumpy twenty-something black guy in baggy clothes and a headband. I’m white, 5′ 11″, wear glasses, and look like I should be an assistant professor of literature. If they weren’t going to hire me, it’s because I didn’t look as desperate and as out of it as he did.

I only waited about thirty seconds before Eric, a blond guy in his late thirties and smiling at all the right moments, his head perpetually tilted sideways, never giving you all his body language, came in and snatched up my resume, whisking me off to his office.

Eric showed me into a spacious office. At least a dozen people could crowd into the area behind the guest’s chair. Everything looked new: the walls, the wood flooring, the desk, the huge bookshelf behind the desk. Ah, I thought, here’s where the money goes. Why waste it in reception? If you just push a few more doorbells, crank out a few more sales, and you could be like Eric here.

Right away, Eric noted the political and cultural experience on my resume and wondered what the hell I was doing in his office. I told Eric I ran into “Jose,” a guy I knew from a catering gig, on the subway the other night and he had told me to stop by if I was looking for work.

“Ah, Jose,” recalled Eric with a nod. “He used to work for us in Chicago. What’s he doing now?”

I almost burst out laughing. “Jose” was the cover story we concocted in case I was pressed about how I heard of Midtown Promotions. I almost missed Eric’s next question. He wanted to know why I was interested in door-to-door sales, seeing as I didn’t really “look like” their typical applicant.

I said, “Last year, I was in politics… and there was, of course, a petition drive… it was something nobody else on the campaign was excited about, so I guess it caught me off-guard a bit when I found that I had the knack for it and even loved it at times. Just the idea of selling people on something, of convincing them face to face…”

He interrupted me. I forgot they don’t actually care about what you’ve done, who you are, or whether you came to the interview in bondage gear. They just need warm bodies.

Eric then offered me the vaguest company description I’ve ever heard. Midtown Promotions was a place that did direct marketing, door-to-door, and other kinds of sales. And that’s about all he said. He never talked about pay rate, hours, or who their clients were. At one point he was rambling about “the 99 cent stores we sell to.” What? Oh God… I hope I don’t get hired to do that. God forbid somebody who I went with to high school is in there and sees me berating the owner for not buying more day-glo plastic umbrellas with ducks on them.

One of the strangest moments came when I realized he stumbled over the name of his own company, as in: “Well, we here at, this is, uh… Midtown….” He looked like he wanted to continue but changed his mind and just left the name as Midtown.

Throughout the interview, Eric’s eyes bulged with excitement, like he couldn’t wait to tell me the next part he loved about the job. And I won’t say he has a permanent smile, but pretty close. He made me feel like he was the head of a big, boisterous family of salespeople.

Luckily, from what I gathered from Eric’s monologue, I’ll probably be working on the IDT-Energy campaign. As the interview went on, well past the standard five minute mark written about in many ex-employee testimonials, Eric gradually worked his way up to a speech I’d seen word-for-word in many an online testimonial from ex-DS-MAX interviewees: how the sales field is very competitive, they have so many applicants for so few slots…

“…and for what we’re looking for, we only have five slots.” Now, I thought, here comes the part where he says, I’ll call you tonight and tell you whether you have a second interview tomorrow. Then he said, “And this interview really doesn’t tell us much… I mean, what is a resume, really? We need to get to know you and this doesn’t say anything.” Suddenly, his demeanor changed. I could hear the mechanism, the gears, grinding a bit. “Like I said, we only have five slots available… and only two slots left…. wouldyouliketobeinoneofthosetwoslots?

I did indeed.

“All right, Brian!” Eric said, jumping up to pump my hand.

I found myself already on my feet, excited and worried, wondering if maybe my vigorous handshake meant I was already getting carried away… — BRIAN FAIRBANKS

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Day One
2. The Job Interview
3. The Day Of O
4. Let’s Get Juiced
5. The Meeting
6. The Meltdown
7. The Confession

Note: No definitive ties have been established between Midtown Promotions and DS-MAX/Innovage.

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. Wormfather says:

    Oooooooh, More, must have more…

  2. AcidReign says:

    …..Well written! We are waiting with baited breath!

  3. SkyeBlue says:

    Is ANYONE savvy enough or have ALOT of time on their hands to actually “Follow the Money Trail” on this company and maybe actually find out who owns it? I think that would be almost as interesting as following this guys story!

  4. Black Bellamy says:

    It’s funny reading this stuff because I know exactly what will happen next and how it will all end.

    I had a guy I knew from high school who started one of these scam companies and how he would sucker people in to sell fire extinguishers for him. He kept moving his offices, changing his company name, going to different states, leaving dozens if not hundreds of broke and pissed people in his wake.

    We keep wondering if some disgruntled guy was going to shoot him one of these days.

  5. Fuzz says:

    Man, this is great reading. I eagerly await the next episode . . .

  6. SarahHeartburn says:

    Somebody forward this to the DA’s office. Seriously.

  7. adamondi says:

    Man…. I feel like I need to take a shower just reading about that office, and the interviewer. *shudder*

  8. brew400 says:

    MORE!!!

  9. Grasshopper says:

    @AcidReign: says We are waiting with baited breath!

    The expression is “bated breath”…or does your breath smells like fish guts? :)

  10. RPG-Advocate says:


    I’m actually surprised that “Eric” admitted it was door-to-door sales in the interview. I’ve been following this company for years as part of a study of commercial cults, and one of the themes that runs through the testimonials is, “I was blindsided! I thought I was interviewing for a traditional marketing job!”

    Tell us how your day of observation goes. Better yet, show us–with hidden camera footage.

  11. bluemeep says:

    These are fabulous! Serious kudos on this series so far.

  12. Ben Popken says:

    @SkyeBlue: If someone wants to do that, they should look into Chris Polke, Midtown Promotions CEO. Carey met him when he tried to get into Midtown.

  13. What is up with the tag ‘Coned’? Shouldn’t that be ‘Conned’?

  14. Paul D says:

    Riveting.

    Absolutely riveting. I eagerly await the next installment.

  15. businesspearl says:

    Did you notice those perfume companies listed in that building? Conveniently covers up the stank of the bodies they got hidden behind those ugly walls.

  16. Ben Popken says:

    @Bon Jour, Pee Wee: coned = ConEd = Con Edison, the NY area energy company.

  17. gundark says:

    This is like waiting for the next episode of a great show on TV. I swear if you get to the climax and then take 2 or 3 months off for a “season break” I will go on a rampage. :-)

  18. ediebeale says:

    I think it’s “Con Ed,” Bon Jour.

  19. ElizabethD says:

    Oh, go ahead, leave us on the edges of our seats!

    Bringing back the venerable genre of serialized stories…. that’s our Consumerist.

  20. lpranal says:

    Wow, this seems eerily similar to an “interview” i had recently with Primerica (not much better of a company). I knew going into it I wouldn’t be the least bit interested, but i wanted Interview experience (I hadn’t had an interview in over 3 years) to kind of shake the rust off. I’d probably had done just as well shoving my head up my own ass while reading my resume.

  21. rmz says:

    @Bon Jour, Pee Wee:

    “ConEd.”

  22. rmz says:

    @rmz: That’s what I get for not refereshing before I replied. Beaten to the punch multiple times :D

  23. rmz says:

    @rmz: That’s what I get for not refreshing the page before replying. Beaten to the punch twice :D

  24. homerjay says:

    The leader is good, the leader is great. We surrender our will as of this date.

  25. matukonyc says:

    “No experience necessary” is a HUGE red flag. Most companies of repute would expect even entry-level employees to have some experience, even unpaid experience. Same goes for “Will Train.”

  26. RogueSophist says:

    This is really excellent stuff. Bring on the next episode!

  27. mach1andy says:

    I’m reading this series with the utmost admiration for your site and the community. You didn’t just post an article on how shady the practices were, you went undercover and that determination shows me the passion of this site!

  28. mdkiff says:

    Kudos to Consumerist for finding not only someone who could get on the “inside,” but who also can write so eloquently about his experiences. I can’t wait for the next installment – like the old serials my grandparents told me about….

  29. This situation reminds me almost verbatim of an interview I had with a marketing company called Vector that recruited warm bodies to sell Cut Co. knives.

    Same drab office, same ambiguous description, same feeling of ‘only a couple slots available’. Creepy. Makes me think this business model is more common than we thought.

  30. dohtem says:

    @1337 4 L: Holy Crap! I had old college friends that sold knives for vector one summer. They all despised it. Are you by any chance in Northern CA?

  31. Islingtonian says:

    @dohtem: Vector/CutCo knives has operations all over the country. My brother sold for them for a summer in the Dallas area. He managed to do alright, but didn’t have much of repeat business.

  32. Sasquatch says:

    I sold Cutco for a few weeks too. Those people are beyond shady. As I posted in another article, they have a great product. Why can’t they just sell it like normal people do instead of going about it like the freakin’ Manson family?

  33. Darren W. says:

    My ex sold CutCo knives in Maryland a few years ago. Same shady interview process. Plus, you had to buy the $150 “display set” to start working for them. I’ve also been approached numerous times about a Quixtar, which is a similar scheme. Apparently I’ve got that young, well dressed, respectable pushover look.

  34. swalve says:

    “I thought I was interviewing for a traditional marketing job!”

    Like collecting email addresses and handing out t-shirts for tobacco and alcohol companies in bars?

  35. kc-guy says:

    Vector/Cutco was in Utah as well. Earned a mention in a movie on Mormon culture about what you do in Provo when you’ve hit rock bottom.

  36. macalesterguy says:

    I found a similar group in St. Louis, MO called The Titan Group, Inc. I sent my resumé last night and they called me this morining to schedule an interview for an intenship! I was excited until I did a little research into the company and found articles such as this one about the parent company DS-Max. Now I’m excited to do exactly what you are doing. I wonder what tactics they will use on a 19 year old college student expecting a legitimate internship…

  37. ckilgore says:

    dang! i cannot wait until the next installment!

  38. thatsmith says:

    Ha this is so funny. I recently met with RJM & Associates after being given a girl’s phone number to contact for an interview here in Wichita.

    They were a direct marketing company with “big name clients such as Disney and Johnson & Johnson”. Their office was at some hole-in-the-wall space on the bad side of town.

    A reverse lookup of their phone number revealed several previous CareerBuilder listings with differing female and company names. They didn’t select me for one of their 5 openings though, because I had too much experience. Damn the luck!

  39. tadiera says:

    Wow. Nice.
    An interesting look into these things and awesome writing style to boot.

  40. SilentDash says:

    Not so sure about the whole getting hired over a “desperate” black guy remark, but aside from that it’s the beginning of a very interesting read.

  41. @dohtem: Nope, central Ohio. But from what others are saying, it looks like this company is all over the place.

    And I can confirm that their products are superb. If they’re not willing to market their product at wal-mart or even swing for an informercial, they must be making more money conducting business this way. Does anyone know what this style of “marketing” this is called? I’d be interested to know a little more about how this works and how they exploit their “employees”.

    Oh, and yes, they do require that new employees purchase the $150 demo set… maybe that’s where they make all their money. There’s no way that very many of the people who start working there develop successful careers selling knives.

  42. crankymediaguy says:

    Darren W. said:

    “I’ve also been approached numerous times about a Quixtar, which is a similar scheme.”

    Quixtar used to be known as Amway, which you’ve almost certainly heard of.

  43. glenji2k4 says:

    I can’t wait to hear the next part of this piece. I too was hustled by a company affiliated with DS-Max. It was even written on some of the boxes inside our office. My company got it’s products from “Innovage,” who you mentioned in the first part. Innovage apparently makes big bucks on moving mass amounts of cheap products with questionable quality. Anyways, my company was(and still is) selling kids products and other parephernalia(t-shirts, duffle bags) off of tables in front of stores like Wal-Mart and Staples, purporting to be helping charites like D.A.R.E., C.P.E.A., and Toys for Tots. Though a meager percentage of the profits actually go to the organizations, and often the public is mislead into believing they are helping a charity when they are really helping the distributors put gas in their cars or buy lunch, and the owners to buy new, expensive cars and suits. All done out of a dingy, dirty rented office like you described. I wish you would go undercover there, as they really need to be brought down (but obviously you can’t attack every single DS-Max spawn there is). Their head company is Quantum Marketing. I have wrote a blog about my old company, citing their deceitful practices and unethical recruiting techniques:

    http://childsafetyinc.blogspot.com/2007/04/scam-of-lifetim

    Keep up the good investigative work! I eagerly await the next chapter.