Thursday, May 24, 2012

Brewster Academy Check Fraud

I'm writing this in hopes of warning others about an online group of evildoers trying to take advantage of people. I have a condo for rent in Decatur, GA, and since my current renters are moving out I placed an ad to find new renters. So far I've had a couple of local calls and one person came by to check it out. Then I received an email from someone claiming to be an incoming university student (the condo is right down the street from Emory University) named "Tomaz Gayle". "She" claimed to be from the UK and wanted to rent my condo. Great! Except.... "Her" writing style was odd, either like a 3rd grade student or like one of my friends who learned English as a 3rd or 4th language. Not like someone born in England! "Her" (I use quotes because who knows?) posts also included far more personal information than a normal renter would use, like this: "I am a 24yrs old lady from Cardiff, UK and I would be doing a program at the University. I am down to earth. I get along with people easily and I like meeting people. I also like traveling, painting, listening to music, dancing, swimming, badminton, tennis and reading. I don't smoke and drink." Sounds more like an ad for a mail-order bride than for a potential renter, but I have many friends from Africa and other places who say odd things because of cultural differences, so at that point I was wary but willing to proceed. "She" said that being in the UK the payment would be sent from her father who was in the US. I explained that I had not yet approved them as renters, and forwarded my application form. Warning sign #2 was when "she" seemed to ignore that part. Long story short, after a few emails from her Dad, and an email from one of two references provided (btw everyone who contacted me in this used a email address - very unusual coincidence, and also makes them difficult for me to trace but fortunately easy for Yahoo to trace), I received a check via UPS. From New Jersey, hand addressed with handwriting that looks like a 5-year old's (also matches my suspicion that english is not this person's first language). Oh, along the way I also received some photos from the "young girl" showing her to be a cute young blonde woman. I do wonder whose Facebook page these pics were stolen from - I wonder how I'd feel if someone somewhere was sending out Chip Reaves pics while committing some sort of criminal act. The check, however, was from "Brewster Academy", a private school in New Hampshire. And it was for 7x the expected deposit amount: $3500 instead of $500. (BTW, the "renters" had never asked what the deposit amount should be). The way this sort of scam works is like this: Some unsuspecting person deposits this check, and the renter then asks them to send back some portion of the overage via Western Union or a similar cash transmission system. The evildoers are hoping the person will send the money back before noticing that the check from Brewster Academy does not clear. A quick phone call to Brewster Academy confirmed my suspicion - they've had dozens of these checks reported, none are legitimate, and that bank account has been flagged for fraud so no check can be drawn on that account anyway. So I'm writing this blog so that anyone who gets a similar check, and who might search "Brewster Academy Check", will find this story, hopefully before losing hundreds or thousands of $$. The good news too is that the FBI and Yahoo have apparently been investigating this for a while and they're tracking the evildoers who are apparently in New York. The sooner they can get these folks locked up, the better!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

End of one Chapter, Beginning of Another

Today I announced my resignation from Computer Troubleshooters Global & CTUSA. It's definitely an interesting time, with mixed emotions all around, but I'm convinced that now is the right time for me to do something new. (Not entirely sure what that something will be, but I'm looking forward to finding out!).

Here's my resignation note as sent to the Computer Troubleshooters franchise system, slightly redacted to remove some trade secrets:

Dear CT family,
Thirteen years ago I took a huge leap of faith by partnering with an Australian couple I barely knew in order to start building the world’s best IT service franchise. At some point along the way you became part of that journey with us, and I could not be prouder of what we’ve accomplished together. Today, though, I’m announcing another “leap of faith” as I step away from Computer Troubleshooters.

I leave knowing that CT is in great hands. We have an amazing team with our Assistant National Directors, National Directors, and CT-Global staff, plus our partners at Merrymeeting, so I’m confident the transition to the new leadership team will be seamless.

Words can’t express what an honor and privilege it’s been for me to work with all of you. I have so many great memories of CT over the years, from the early CHIPTECH days with Dennis and Charles to the “Mexican Sequined Thong” incident to countless inappropriate versions of the Happy Birthday song. I’m proudest of what we’ve accomplished in terms of recurring revenue though: being the first franchise to embrace managed services with BEST and HOST, and our partnerships with Dell, Fonality, and Autotask. When I first joined CT I probably could not have picked out Australia on a map, but CT has enabled me to visit and learn about 14 countries and gain friends in countless more.

I know you will undoubtedly have some questions about my transition, so I’ve put together a little FAQ section below:

Q: “Who will run CTUSA / CT-Global?”
A: John Davies, Merrymeeting’s CEO, will be leading the CT management team for 2012 and possibly beyond. Additionally, Kim Weinberger will be joining the CT corporate management team as a full-time employee. As most of you know, Kim has many years of experience as a CT franchise owner and Assistant National Director. John will be issuing a separate memo summarizing CT’s plans for 2012.

Q: “When will you leave CT?”
A: We have planned for my last day to be March 2, 2012, however, John has asked me to stay on in a consulting capacity for several additional months. This will give me plenty of time to wrap up outstanding projects and be available to help with issues that may arise in the near future.

Q: “What will you do after you leave?”
A: I’ll be more involved with the local franchise, Computer Troubleshooters of Anderson, that my wife and I own with our local partners. I’ll likely do some coaching & consulting on an interim basis as well while I work on a new project I’m very passionate about, tentatively called Bigger Brains ( I’m hoping that the Bigger Brains project will be an opportunity that can benefit your Computer Troubleshooters franchise as well, similar to Fonality or OWN, and I’ll provide more details this summer as the project develops (or doesn’t!), so “stay tuned”.

Q: “How does this affect my fees/my benefits/upcoming events/etc?”
A: Nothing should change regarding your fees or benefits, except that I personally won’t be involved anymore after March 30. Your CTUSA/CT-Global management team, the National Directors, and our partners at Merrymeeting are committed to making sure Computer Troubleshooters stays the world’s best IT services franchise. Things will change, just like they always do, because we’re in a very dynamic industry. The new CEO will bring a fresh perspective and new energy to the organization, and I’m sure will have some great ideas on improvements we can make in the franchise system. As a soon-to-be-franchise-owner myself I’m looking forward to that, and I hope you are too.

Q: “What is the future for Computer Troubleshooters? Should we focus more on managed services, or Cloud, or VoIP, or SEO, or mobility, or ???”
A: This is always the big question with absolutely any technology company. To survive and thrive we must have a business model that allows us to make a profit while providing a solution our clients want and can benefit from. This is just as true for franchise owners with their small business clients as it is for CT-Global with our franchise-owner clients.

The good news is that everything I see tells me we are heading into a period of unprecedented profit opportunities for IT solution providers. The bad news is that it’s going to be very different from what we’ve done before. Based on the research we’ve done this year (and which you’ve seen me present in past conferences and webinars) I believe the foundation of what we do will continue to be a recurring revenue, “managed services” business model. But I also believe we’ll see two substantial shifts in what “managed services” means.

First, I think what the customer wants out of “managed services” will shift from ‘outcomes’ to ‘value’. I’ve heard other IT pundits argue that we’re heading into a period of outcomes-based selling, meaning that you sell the customer on the outcome (“trouble free networks”, “no IT headaches”, etc) of your service plan. I think we’ve been there and we’re moving on, into a period of selling on value. The reason for this is because of the ongoing commoditization of IT – if a customer wants a trouble-free network, one option is they could replace all their PCs with iPads, adopt only cloud-based apps, a heavy-duty wireless router and be done with it. I know, there are lots of reasons why this is a BAD idea, but that’s where selling on value comes in – we need to sell the customer on why our solution is better for them (a better value, which does not necessarily mean a better PRICE) than the other solutions they’re aware of or may be introduced to by others. Small business owners have always had a strong Do-It-Yourself streak, and as we see more easy-to-use consumer-type solutions becoming capable of handling business operations we may see that DIY streak get stronger. So we need to roll with that, assemble a great set of services that these Do-It-Yourselfers can use, sell them at a reasonable but profitable margin, things like:
redacted Cloud Solutions
redacted Phone Solutions
redacted BDR Solutions
redacted SEO/SEM Solutions
(And it’s not a coincidence that CT has launched partnerships with all of these over the past year!). Plus lots of smaller vendors like, Google Apps, RingCentral, 1and1, ShockeyMonkey, etc should also be an important part of your client portfolio. (And I’m hoping my Bigger Brains project will be a part of that also.)

So our sales focus will become more focused on providing value to the client via solutions, which takes us yet another step away from the olden days of “trading hours for dollars”. Secondly, and as part of that, I believe we’ll see a decreased need for technicians. This can manifest itself in one of two different ways – either your team of techs will be able to service a larger number of clients without adding more staff, OR it means you can reduce your techs and still serve the same number of clients. In fact, we may return to the days when Computer Troubleshooters was primarily a one-person, work-from-home business but be providing a completely different set of solutions than our old virus-removal, hardware upgrading days. When hardware is increasingly reliable and increasingly replaceable, and tools like CTMS make it easy for one tech to manage and maintain a larger number of systems by using advanced integration, monitoring, and automation, it may be feasible for one CT to manage hundreds of client systems with a single technician.

The key is to always be focused on the value to the customer. I’ve always described our mission statement as “Helping Small Businesses Make the Most Effective and Efficient Use of Their Technology Investment”, and as long as you keep reinterpreting that statement based on what small businesses should be investing in today, and do so in a profitable way, you’ll see increasing levels of success.

The same is true with the Computer Troubleshooters franchise. As a franchisor we have to continually reinterpret how we add value to your business, and find ways we can do it profitably. The new Email Marketing service and the Rackspace & Fonality partnerships (which pay a commission back to CT-Global) are the latest steps in our continuing evolution as a successful franchise system.

So with that said, I will miss being CEO of the World’s Greatest IT Franchise. It’s been a great ride, with more than its share of ups and downs, but a great adventure with lots of great people along the way. And I look forward to continuing my journey together with you as a fellow franchise owner, coach, potential vendor, and friend.

Best Regards,
Chip (coming August 2012!)