I Got Donald Trumped on Craigslist
In 2013 I was invited to a fake job interview. It ended up being a pyramid scheme sponsored by Donald Trump. 3 years later, this man is attempting his biggest scam of all time — The Presidency of The United States of America. May we all see him for the schmuck he is.

Originally published in Contenders Magazine Oct 2013

Edited by Kyle Paoletta

I send résumés to employers seeking administrative help on Craigslist, Monster, and LinkedIn. One of them, sent to a scrambled email address associated with a Craigslist ad with the subject line “Seeking Sharp People,” ends up on the screen of Johnson Wu. Johnson calls me on a Monday afternoon and says, “Hi, Nelda, I really like your résumé, and I’d like to do an on-the-spot interview. Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Yes,” I say, hoping I can finally get some part-time work closer to the city.

I answer his questions about having a self-starting, entrepreneurial attitude. Of course, I up-sell myself with enthusiasm, as I’ve been trained to do in interviews of any kind. He says he really sees a lot of potential in me, and he’d like to introduce me to some “high level executives” in his company. The next interviews are this weekend, at: “take down this address, 32083 Alvarado Niles Rd., Union City, CA 94587.”

I feel queasy. I need to do more research before I meet this person. I ask him to send me a follow-up email. He does, immediately, with the same address, and this message:

I have you scheduled for 8/17 Saturday, 10am. We will be in the San Mateo Room. Please give my direct line a call on Friday to confirm that you will be showing up.

Hear from you soon,

Johnson

I respond to his email, asking, “Is there a company website I can peruse?” Here is what I get in return:

Hi Nelda,

One of our partners is Xoom Energy. You can learn a little more about us at xoomenergy.com. If you have any further questions, feel free to write them down and bring them with you when you meet our high level executives. My job is to set up appointments and confirm them. When you come in, remember to smile.

I look up Xoom Energy, and even though they appear to be run by yuppies and scammers, I decide to go in for this interview, because I need a job. Yelp could have told me the secret of the scam, but I don’t look at it until later.

As the week goes on, my nerves increase. I do not want to go to this interview, but part of me thinks I’m just scared to “put myself out there” on the “open” job market.

On Saturday morning, my boyfriend and I drive an hour to 32083 Alvarado Niles Rd, which turns out to be the Crowne Plaza Silicon Valley North- Union City Hotel. Boris accompanies me in case Johnson Wu attempts unmentionable acts in the San Mateo Room.

Johnson is there to greet me in the lobby. He looks sharp, wearing Italian leather shoes and a well-tailored navy suit. My tan suit suddenly feels sloppy, but at least it seems like I’m entering a legitimate interview scenario.

“Well, I told you I was going to introduce you to some high level executives,” says Johnson. “Make sure you smile, because here they are!”

I am ushered down the hotel corridor past tall men in more sharply tailored suits. Their faces lean toward me like we’re in a Darren Aronofsky film. “You’re bright eyed,” they say. “I can tell you know when to seize an opportunity.”

Johnson and I cheerfully greet each one of them, and I am wearing my smile. We approach a registration table in front of the San Mateo Room. I can hear dance music coming out of the double doors. Lights flash out as people enter the room. I am given a nametag that has confetti on it, exclaiming “HELLO I’M NELDA!”

We move quickly toward our seats, because the performance is starting. The room is packed with people, half of whom seem just as surprised as I am to be there, with the dance music, and the strobe lights, at 10:00am on a Saturday in Union City. Some walk around like they own the room, greeting each other and stroking egos. But eventually the lights dim, and everyone moves to their seats.

The music fades out. We are asked to silence our phones and save any restroom breaks for after the presentation. Within the first 15 minutes, we hear ten testimonies from people who dropped out of college, quit their jobs, or just trusted in God (there were many faithful Christians at this gathering) and took the leap into ACN Inc. “Stop waiting for life to happen and create it — with ACN!” they say.

ACN Inc. is a multi-level marketing company that provides a slew of “essential” services across the world. They sell natural gas and electricity through companies like Xoom Energy. They operate as resellers for AT&T, T Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, Flash, Direct TV, ADT Security, Dish Network, and more. There’s even an option to get into the credit market: Annovia Payments.

As an Independent Business Owner for ACN, I’d be directly selling these services to my friends and family. I would earn ACN points, and collect residual income on my customers’ monthly bill.

“Are you making money every time your friends turn on a light, make a call, or swipe a credit card at their business? You should be! You deserve it!” says a thirty-something, gel-haired “Executive Team Leader,” who gained financial independence by selling ACN services to clients at his wife’s nail salon in Sunnyvale.

By Cavernia (Wikimedia User) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“But wait, there’s more!” he says, just like a QVC host. “You aren’t just selling services. You can share the ACN Opportunity with everyone you know.” If you attract and sign on other IBOs, he tells me, you get bonuses! As those people gain customers, you’ll get residual income from them too! The chain is endless!

The testimonies continue, and they are enthusiastic. IBOs brag about how they’re making more money than they could have dreamed of, though they know they’ll meet bigger goals with ACN. One 20-year-old man chose ACN over college. Within two years, he was able to retire his mother on his ACN paycheck. She stands in the back of the room, beaming proudly.

Then they show a video where Donald Trump himself sings the praises of this “over half a billion dollar company.” Trump even featured ACN and their hilariously archaic videophones on The Apprentice. He extends the ACN opportunity as “ultimately, a dream come true.” Trump then says to me, from the 8 feet tall screen: “I find there are two kinds of people. Those who take action, and those who let opportunity pass them by. Which one are you?”

Right after the screening, I am handed an Independent Business Owner Agreement, asking for $499 as overhead cost. Then, if I accumulate 7 points by signing up 3 customers and/or 3 different services, I can become a “Team Trainer.” From there I can rise to posses such esteemed titles as “Regional Director” and “Senior Vice President.” I, too, can be a “high level executive” for ACN if I work hard enough!

I don’t even have $500 in my bank account. So, if the flashing lights and shiny shoes woo me, I’ll have to borrow the money from my boyfriend in the parking lot. They’re having an all-day training, which I can stay for after paying a modest fee. But I have places to be and real interviews to find, so I say goodbye to Johnson and walk out on the “opportunity of a lifetime.”

After the event, I finally have an actual company name to research. When I type in ACN, Google automatically follows it with the word “scam.” Working class, undereducated, and sincere people, and their loved ones, fill blogs and online forums with personal reports of ACN failures. Families and friends are divided over ACN disputes, and there was at least one example of a teenager getting robbed under the aegis of ACN.

In 2010, Montana tried to kick them out, but eventually dropped their cease and desist order. Philadelphia accused them of overcharging customers (“cramming”) and changing their service without approval (“slamming”), but these charges were dropped too. Australia and Canada charged them with pyramid selling, but ACN is still going strong in both countries. ACN must have a strong Legal Advisory Committee and media relations.

One legal consultant, Bob Stephens, represented ACN in an expose done by LA’s local Fox affiliate in 2008. He said firmly, “Independent representatives are prohibited by the rules of the company, from guaranteeing any income, from projecting earnings.”

But I was promised I’d be making $3000 a month after only half a year at the company if I put in the work! Every person that spoke assured me there would be a return on my investment. These people must feel a sense of confidence and community in ACN. The small or stadium-filled training events give them a zest for life and hope for a financially lucrative future. It serves the same purpose as a mega church. The smiles are the same.

But I don’t need a church, and I don’t need to buy hope for my future at $499 down. If, as they claim, they are not operating illegally, then why couldn’t Johnson Wu give me the company name before I arrived? And why the secret hotel location?

Robert Stevanovski, Greg Provenzano, and Tony and Mike Cupisz started the American Communications Network in Farmington Hills, Michigan in 1993. Twenty years later, I am duped into giving my Saturday over to what might be the biggest multi-level marketing company in the world (their exact size is unknown since they’re privately held). I was officially Trumped. I don’t send résumés to Craigslist ads anymore, but I still read the missed connections.