Reach Out And Rob Someone

Scam artists who work the phones are bilking consumers of $1 billion or more a year

When Dayton Searles heard the pitch, he figured he couldn't lose. A telephone salesman representing a Las Vegas firm called Vita Life told Searles that he had won a valuable prize. The St. Paul retiree would receive a new car, a two-week vacation in Hawaii, an imported French fur coat, a combination television-VCR, or $3,000 in cash. To qualify, all he had to do was buy some vitamins. Without a moment's hesitation, Searles agreed to order an eight- month supply for $395. But when his prize of a fur coat arrived 3 1/2 months later, Searles recalls, "my wife took one...

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