Company Said To Use 'Boiler Room' Tactics - WSMV News 4

Company Said To Use 'Boiler Room' Tactics

Posted: Updated: April 28, 2009

 Former employees call it the boiler room, based on the movie in which salespeople use high-pressure tactics to sell junk stocks.

 

 

In the so-called boiler room at United Benefits of America, off of Murfreesboro Pike, it's not stocks but bundles of benefits that are sold to people who can't afford traditional insurance.

 

Former employees have said the tactics in the movie and at UBA are similar.

 

"I was told to lie. I was directly told to lie," said former UBA employee Jason Ashley.

 

Ashley and Seth hall are among the former employees who said what they saw and did at UBA led them to quit.

 

"We saw it all, and we realized that, you know, somebody needed to do something about it, so we contacted you guys," said Seth Hall, former UBA employee.

 

For several days over the course of several months, the Channel 4 I-Team sent a hidden camera into the so-called boiler room while looking into the company.

 

Customers who couldn't afford health insurance said they were furious at how they were treated by UBA salespeople. They said they were convinced they were buying traditional health insurance but were given nothing more than a few discount prescription cards.

 

"I was real upset. I had been lied to," said Wayne Yancey, former customer of UBA.

 

The Channel 4 I-Team found 46 complaints -- 33 of which have been settled by the company -- with the Better Business Bureau, which gave the company an F rating.

 

The state Department of Commerce and Insurance had conducted a raid of the company and seized files.

 

Managers were found to be teaching sales people to mislead customers -- some suffering from cancer and AIDS. Managers encouraged what's called the TAFT tactic. It stands for "Tell them Any F***ing Thing." In this case, it's used to promote a fictional deadline.

 

"TAFT is tell them any f***ing thing," said a manager on Channel 4's hidden camera Jan. 13. "Tell them today is the last day of open enrollment. We've only got so many approvals to get. That's TAFT."

 

The hidden camera found more. Managers encouraged salespeople to scare customers -- again, about a fictional deadline.

 

"We can't let them take an hour. We can't let them take a day," a manager said. "They buy now, or they pretty much come down with cancer tomorrow. This is a do-or-die type of thing."

 

"We've done a customer wrong from time to time," said another manager. "It happens."

 

"They are bent on deceiving people," said a former employee who wanted to remain anonymous. "It's to profit themselves and only themselves."

 

The anonymous former employee, Ashley and Hall said how they were trained in compliance with ethical standards by UBA. But once they got in the boiler room, managers would tell them something different.

 

"Basically, Seth, we kind of train you one way, and when you get in here on the floor, you're kind of trained another way," Hall said a manager told him.

 

That's when, the former employees said, they were taught to use TAFT, among other tactics.

 

The former employees said they were fined, usually about $50, for infractions like lying. But then, they said, the company would turn around and give them a bonus for selling to the very same customer they were accused of lying to.

 

"(It was) kind of slap you on the wrist, pat you on the back kind of a deal," said Ashley.

 

"We've talked to many, many customers of this company. They're angry," said Kathleen Calligan of the BBB.

 

The BBB received so many complaints about UBA, including misleading sales practices, that the BBB's president went to the company last year and encouraged the company to change its sales practices.

 

Calligan said the company's CEO vowed to improve.

 

"They, too, understood the importance of building the public's trust in their business. That was their goal," she said. "I don't think it was taken to heart at all. I think the business model was probably enhanced."

 

The CEO of UBA, Tim Thomas, wouldn't return Channel 4's repeated requests for an interview. His office referred Channel 4 to the company's media contact, an attorney, who also wouldn't comment.

 

The state firmly requires that anyone selling insurance have an insurance license because training is needed to explain complex coverage.

 

"We see that as crucial to the policy holder being able to understand exactly what they're buying," said John Morris, assistant commissioner of commerce and insurance.

 

But the former employees said neither they nor any of the salespeople they worked with have insurance licenses. These men said they didn't know the first thing about insurance when they were hired on.

 

"So what exactly were you guys selling?" asked I-Team reporter Jeremy Finley.

 

"That's a good question," said Ashley.

 

UBA's Web site says it sells bundles of benefits. It doesn't mention anywhere about traditional insurance.

 

But these employees said they were told to use the term insurance over and over again in their sales pitches.

 

These employees said they are haunted by the voices of customers who left complaints on their voicemails, desperate to get their money back once they realized what they'd been sold.

 

"They're already down on their luck. They already need help from other people, and you can hear it in their voice," said Ashley. "Going home at night and sleeping with that and laying down at night and hearing that in their voice, I couldn't live with it."

 

The state would not comment on its investigation, and, at this point, no one has accused UBA of violating any state rules or laws.

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