How the Right Scams Its Followers

Salon.com has a long article looking at an issue I’ve been writing about lately, how right wing talk radio, magazines and websites are pushing a whole range of get-rich-quick scams and quack medicine nonsense to their credulous followers, selling their mailing list for massive profits to companies advertising those cons.

Last week, preeminent conservative blogger and Fox News contributor Erick Erickson was busted hawking a pricey but dubiously valuable financial advice newsletter to his readers in an ad that turned out to be lifted from a previous ad for the same newsletter sent in the name of Ann Coulter a few years earlier. “I’m happy to support a good friend. Didn’t earn a penny,” he tweeted. Whether you believe that or not may depend on whether you know that his publisher once offered to sell his endorsement, or if you believe, as Alex Pareene has often written, that the conservative movement is, among other things, an elaborate moneymaking venture by which the wealth of the rabid and gullible conservative rank and file is redistributed to already rich celebrities.

The truth is, peddling shady products to your most loyal listeners and readers is the rule, not the exception, and Erickson was just unfortunate enough to have someone notice him, and not the dozen other talkers or news outlets it could have easily been. From miracle health cures, to get-rich-quick schemes, to overpriced precious metals and seed banks, talk radio hosts and conservative news outlets are making a killing by trading their platform and credibility for the hard-earned cash of their unsuspecting listeners.

One of the most common is gold scams:

The most obvious example is gold, the precious metal conservative talkers encouraged their listeners to go all in on during the Great Recession (via the companies that pay them to say that and give them a cut of sales, naturally), but gold has since fallen more than 30 percent from its peak. If you bought when gold was near its high, you could have lost half your nest egg, and analysts say prices could fall another 50 percent. But poor financial advice aside, the real problem came in the particular companies the conservative luminaries ensured their listeners they could trust.

Glenn Beck is the most egregious, with his partnership with Goldline International, which also enjoys endorsements from Mark Levin and, until recently, Sean Hannity and others. Beck cut tearful promotional videos for the company, hawks them passionately on his radio and TV programs, and even designed a coin for the company this year (it reads “mind your business” on the front).

As it turns out, the company’s business model is built on systematically swindling its mostly elderly clientele by talking or tricking them into buying overpriced coins or just sending them different products than they bought, prosecutors in California alleged, leading the company to settle for $4.5 million in refunds to its customers. A judge instructed the company to foot the bill for a court-appointed monitor, who was supposed to ensure the company stopped its alleged “bait and switch” scam.

Not long after that, the company’s former chief compliance officer came forward to say the company was back to its old tricks. “Goldline specifically targets vulnerable consumers with sales tactics designed to pressure those consumers into buying products that would often result in the consumer losing over one-third of his or her investment the instant the purchase is made,” she said in a legal complaint filed late last year.

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