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Group's promise of fortune tainted

By Hal Mattern
The Arizona Republic
July 20, 2001

This weekend, a "select group" of Valley residents will be let in on a tip that can start them on the road to "fortune and freedom."

It's "an amazing money-making opportunity . . . a business that takes just a few hours a week, and starts filling your pockets with cash in as little as 60 days!"

So says an invitation from Natural Choice USA, a Culver City, Calif., company that sponsors seminars around the country to entice people into entering the automatic merchandising, or vending machine, business. The company, which sells vending machines, is holding a series of seminars today through Sunday in Scottsdale and has mailed invitations to the "select group" of people.

Natural Choice's mailing doesn't specify what it's selling or how much it charges, but people who have attended the seminars say the company sells a package of vending machines for about $18,000, minus a $1,150 rebate. They say such machines can be purchased used for a fraction of that cost.

Dave Campbell, co-owner of Nothing New in Phoenix, which refurbishes and sells used vending machines, said machines sold by Natural Choice are worth between $25 and $500 used.

Natural Choice, which also does business as Antares Corp. and Orion Products Corp., has been offering such seminars for years and has been the subject of several consumer alerts from Better Business Bureaus and attorneys general around the country. In 1996, the company paid $1 million to the Federal Trade Commission to settle charges that it misrepresented potential earnings and the success of its previous investors.

The company admitted no guilt but agreed not to make representations about specific income, profits or sales volume that distributors could expect to earn.

Julie Taylor, marketing director for the company, was traveling Thursday and unavailable for comment. But she told the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio earlier this year, "We totally operate within the guidelines of that agreement, and we are very proud of that."

The Phoenix Better Business Bureau hasn't received any complaints about Natural Choices this year but has received two inquiries about the company. It refers people to a report on the company by the Better Business Bureau of the Southland in California.

The report rates the company as having "an unsatisfactory business performance record." It says complaints against the company involve the misrepresentation of profit potential, failure to honor refund promises and the quality of the vending machines.

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