As I have said before a general news reporter has to handle a wide variety of news from golden wedding anniversaries to major fires, even murder. Sometimes feature work might just concentrate on a new attraction opening in town, at others it could be a piece of serious investigative journalism.
An opportunity for the latter came when I found a flyer on the windscreen of my car, which had been parked in a town centre car park backing onto the office. Just about all the cars had a leaflet under their windscreen wipers.
It offered people a chance to work part-time, earning £40 to £70 a week, while still carrying on with the normal day job. This was a time when the average weekly wage for a manual worker, male, was £38 and for a female just over £19.
I took the leaflet into the office and asked my editor, Tony Blandford, what he thought about it and whether or not it would be worth looking into it. He gave me the go ahead.
I spoke to the police first and they said they could see nothing illegal in the information provided but warned anyone thinking about following the lead and making contact would be advised to take legal advice.
A call to the phone number on the leaflet got me through to a man who said he represented Golden Products International. Without telling him what my daytime job was I expressed an interest and was invited to attend a meeting at the Hilton Hotel in London.
On arrival I was met by the man I had spoken to on the phone, he said I should call him Alan, all nice and friendly. I then sat down with others who had also shown interest, there were about 50 of us altogether.
Another young man with the gift of the gab then began the presentation.
We were told Golden Power had been set up just two years previously and the three men who started it had done so well that they were moving on to the international business scene but needed to ensure the UK arm had a good standing which meant people at local, area and district level.
At the end of the day it was a direct sales system which would be built on people buying the product from an area supplier and selling them on for a percentage of the profit. The area supplier got the goods from a district supplier who took a slightly bigger cut and so on up to the top.
It was made clear that most people taking up the offer would start off as local salespeople earning possibly £25 a month until they had built up their clientele but figures were put up on the board (and as quickly wiped off) showing how moving up the sales leader to area, district and above could lead to rewards of five-figure sums per year for those who proved their worth.
It was similar to the Tupperware company which relied on individuals running Tupperware parties and getting supplies from an area manager and so on. This had been going on successfully in the UK since 1960 and had gained a good reputation.
Selling cleaning products would not seem quite so opportunistic as the Tupperware scheme but the attraction to people on a poor wage could be quite tempting.
Just before the meeting ended came the final touch when we were told that anyone who signed on within 24 hours would, on the payment of £850, be given training, over £1000 worth of sales goods (based on sales prices) and a prime sales area.
There was the catch – sign on without getting any proper legal advice and find yourself with a cleaning product people knew nothing about and would take a lot of convincing to swap it for their usual branded product.
There was one final touch when Alan and his colleague asked three or four of us to stay back and, when the others had gone, told us that we had been selected because of our “keen interest” in the scheme, We were told that we could get the very best areas if we signed on immediately and it would only cost us £750.
As the Fleet Street reporters who had been working undercover used to say: “At that point I made my excuses and left.”
Before we ran the story I made a final check with the police and was told there had been reports from their own area and other police districts of similar leafletting schemes, sometimes with a different phone number and a different company name but all basically the same.
When the story was printed we were very careful not to say this was a scam – but after reading the piece anyone who took up the offer would appear to be very gullible.
PS: My expenses for going up to London on a Sunday evening to attend the presentation probably gave my pay packet a bigger boost than I would have had from signing up to sell cleaning products.
NB – a company called Golden Power International Ltd was incorporated in 1972 in Hong Kong. That company mainly deals in batteries and chargers and, as far as I am aware, has nothing to do with the cleaning products company referred to in this story.