Local PBS station warns of potential scam

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It starts with a convincing sales pitch from a so-called production company fishing for clients, claiming that it can produce informational segments about them that would appear on public television.

Boca Raton, Fla.-based Vision Media Television has a sleek looking website and currently is using the name of television personality Joan Lunden to lend credibility to its operations. Several Indianapolis not-for-profits have been contacted by the company. One says it tried to close the deal by asking for an upfront fee as high as $26,000 to cover production costs.

However, local public broadcasting officials are warning Indianapolis organizations and corporate partners that the pitch may be a scam. They say that WFYI, which operates public radio and television stations WFYI-FM 90.1 and WFYI-TV Channel 20 in Indianapolis, has no business relationship with the producer and does not broadcast any of its content.

WFYI also points out that Lunden has recently posted a warning on her website about production companies falsely using her name in connection with segments and programs allegedly for air on public television. In addition, the Public Broadcasting Service warned viewers in 2008 that it had no association with a number of production companies, including Vision Media.

The unusual financial solicitation and the quick one-week window to send a $26,000 payment raised a red flag for Sally Irvin, executive director of the Indiana Canine Assistant Network on the city’s west side.

The 10-year-old not-for-profit provides assistance dogs to children and adults suffering from cerebral palsy and other conditions.

Initially contacted by Vision Media on Feb. 14, Irvin ended conversations with the company, operating as American Milestones with Joan Lunden, on Monday after concluding the pitch is a scam.

“The scary part to me is that it wasn’t a hard sell,” she said. “If it wasn’t for the horrible amount of money, it sounded very legitimate to me.”

WFYI has contacted community partners and corporate supporters with warnings about the solicitation. A spokesperson said that several local groups have told WFYI that they've been contacted by Vision Media, including the American Legion, Indiana State Museum and IndyGo. WFYI is unaware of any local not-for-profit or company that has actually paid American Milestones for production work it claims to offer.

Calls to the Florida company from IBJ were not returned.

WFYI typically works with several independent producers that provide content, said Alan Cloe, the station’s executive vice president for content services. But the broadcaster does not work with American Milestones, Cloe said, and he’s wary of its intentions.

“It’s reminiscent of somebody who says they’re compiling a directory of important people, and shouldn’t you pay for your listing,” he said.

A warning advisory posted on the website of Joan Lunden Productions says she’s aware of entities that have been using her name without consent when soliciting for public relations videos, commercials and paid-for news segments.

Lunden said she thinks the use of her name may stem from her participation in 2008 in the filming of generic “openings and closings” for what she was told would be educational television segments. The pieces touched on topics such as medicine, law and business and were to be distributed to public television stations.

American Milestones undoubtedly is using Lunden’s name to give the company a sense of credibility, said Bill Thomas, CEO of the Central Indiana Better Business Bureau. The local consumer rights agency hasn’t logged any complaints against the company, he said.

“It’s just like we tell consumers, you’ve got to be vigilant,” Thomas said. “Don’t let these claims of great exposure distract you from what is probably the truth.”

It’s unclear which cities American Milestones is targeting, but an online thread on the website 800notes.com suggests a few have fallen victim to the solicitation.

“Sadly we bit and are now trying to get our money back, well at least some of it,” said one post from November, citing a complaint filed with the Florida attorney general. “I doubt it will happen or that we will have much recourse.”

American Milestones’ parent Vision Media has used the name of at least one other television personality in the past to coax money from community foundations.

In 2008, company representatives called leaders of such organizations with an offer to be part of a television program with Hugh Downs, the retired broadcaster, as its host, according to The New York Times. But the initial pitch did not mention that the production would cost $20,000 or more.

At the time PBS had a warning on its website that said it “is not associated with and does not endorse, distribute programming for, review underwriting for or otherwise have any business relationship” with a list of production companies that included Vision Media, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, Irvin at the Indiana Canine Assistant Network is thankful she didn’t continue to pursue the pitch from Vision Media. The small not-for-profit’s annual budget is just $291,000, and prying $26,000 away from directors would have been nearly impossible anyway.

Irvin became even more suspicious when she asked for a copy of the contract, which she never received, in addition to her ignored requests to speak to other not-for-profits that Vision Media had worked with.

“I can be pretty skeptical, and when I got the first message, it sounded very professional,” Irvin said. “But when she said there would be a cost for production, I’m thinking, ‘We’re not paying for this.’”


  • Jim Levine is part of scam
    The post from 'Jim Levine' is from the scam website operators. They use false names and comments to try and throw people off. I expect that people on this forum will find it interesting to know that our company GOT OUR MONEY BACK from these scammers and we are on the way to putting them out of business. You can contact me for more information through our website www.laterelle.com Peter Clutton Peter CVL;uttopn hbeuinss. busiuness.
  • You Guys Didn't even Participate in the Show!
    Hello All, For the record, all of the comments listed below were from people who DIDN'T PARTICIPATE IN THE SHOW AS A GUEST. Let's see, who was on the show,...George Bush Sr.(he didn't complain) or Colin Powell, (he didn't complain either) You spam bloggers and commenters didn't do your homework and are full of baseless accusations. Tell yourself that when you look in the mirror tomorrow morning.
    • Us too - in Seattle
      I work for a local, environmental non-profit and received one of these calls also at 10 am this morning. Caller was Lily Garcia on behalf of producer Evan Storm for impact series TV show with Martin Sheen. impactseriesonline.com 561-353-9068 x640. Thanks for this site for quickly confirming my suspicions that this is a scam!
    • SCAM
      We received a call from Elizabeth, Executive Assistant to Caroline Kunz about wanting to speak with us about a series on 21st century house calls. Poked around a little online and found this article. I never spoke to them as the number they left me (1-561-353-5068 x219) was non-functional. Beware. Impact with Martin Sheen is a scam.
    • Pitched us too
      Got a message on our voice mail from Rita Fisher, saying she was assistant to Laurie Cohen, producer of Impact with Martin Sheen, asking to speak to our executive director. What I thought was odd was seeing the time stamp of 5:23 a.m. It seems odd that they'd call when they knew no one would be here. Good to know it might be a scam that our non profit cannot afford.
    • Impact.ptv
      Received a call June 2013 from a Katie Cummings identifying herselt as Director of Booking for the National Public television series "Impact." She state she was calling for her producer who was putting together a series "Faith in America" and she was scheduling telepone interviews with denominations that he might have an interest in featuring in the series. Call back number: 561-826-0742 ext.132, URL www.impact.ptv.com. Sounded very professional and sincere but still did not ring true. We did not return the call. Thank you for this site confirming the scam.
    • Also got a call from Bruce
      I also got a message today from "Bruce Barrett" who said I could be on Impact with Martin Sheen. He gave the number 561-353-9065 ext 134. Thanks for setting this site up to warn people. Somebody please catch these predators
    • Nail on the head
      You hit the nail on the head Dan! That is exactly what they did, got our CEO really excited about the project, put some urgency around it so we would feel the pressure to jump in and send them a check and the CEO just passed it off to another department to take care. Their website looks so nice and legitimate and there are pages and pages of SEO around the company with nothing but good things. This site needs to come up on page one instead.
    • Martin Shhen Impact
      Same thing, missed a call June 5, but they left a message. Catherine Coldwell producer of the show Impact with Martin Sheen. Doing a series on Senior Issues and were interested in featuring Desired Resources, LLC on the show. Call was from San Francisco 415-994-0000 but left the number to call back at as 561-826-0742 ext 282. I called back and left a message I was returning their call. Next morning I received a call from "Cathrine Coldwell" explaining the show and the Interstitial programs that bridge between an ending show and the next beginning one. These would run for a year. They would expect a financial participation of $23,4000. Not something I could do and she said they would keep my information for consideration of future programs. Later that day, I missed a couple of calls and it only displayed as 561. Voice mail was from "Mindy Robbins" (british accent)saying she was calling to schedule a call between myself and Cathrine Coldwell. Call back number was 561-826-0742 ext 229 in Boca Raton, FL. Slime balls!
    • scam
      I think this company changed their name, they call our nonprofit org a few times over the last sev years and want us to do a show with them. They always want big money up front. Thankfully we have never dealt with them. They need to give up and quit bothering us
      Tom Brewer called wanting to do some advertising for our company. He took some information but not our website (first red flag) and was going to call back later after he researched us... I went to the website information he gave me, impactptv.com and noticed that all the icons were false, the videos were not in line with the theme he had presented and the one with Colin Powell, just ended abruptly and had nothing to do with anything on the website. As I continued searching his company out, he called back and started talking about the charge for his service etc go to the site and in the lower left hand corner see the small icon INVITE click and type in the name:PublicTV and password:education ... I found this article and the deal was over ... thank you very much, because if you check out the site you will see it could be convincing. here is the email I received hours later: To recap our conversation, I’m currently in pre-production on a short-form documentary series distributed for my Public Television audience. I choose stories based on three criteria: 1)You must have a storyline that is educationally beneficial. 2)You must be able to outline a targeted audience for your educational message. 3)You must have both a desire and ability to educate the public television viewer. If you meet these criteria, and we choose your story, there are three requirements: 1)You will be available for a one-day, structured, onsite location shoot. 2)You have allocated the cost for participation, which is the $23,400 pre-production fee. 3)You can adhere to the Production Cycle for the project. I’ll be currently reviewing your story, as well as the collateral materials you agreed to overnight to me. Be sure to send those out immediately. (THIS MUST BE FORM LETTER BECAUSE I DID NOT AGREE TO SEND ANYTHING OVER NIGHT) Attached are three important documents: 1) The Script Blueprint (your first main input into the storyline, due two weeks after we schedule the story), 2) The Project Overview (a one page snapshot of the project), and 3) The Production Cycle (which outlines what will take place over the next 60-90 days). To see video examples of our series online follow this LINK. You can click on industry specific content, located on tabs located on the right side of the site’s home page streaming Public Television segments, Corporate Documentaries and Educational Commercials. To view the online brochure, and some other samples of the project, click HERE. You’ll need to enter a user name and password, both using only lower case letters. User = publictv Password = education Once inside, you’ll find the Participant Invitation (an electronic brochure) in the upper right hand corner which is a fully interactive, magazine style invitation. I will be contacting you on or before the date and time we agreed on to schedule the program. Best Regards, Tom Brewer IMPACT www.impactptv.com 433 Plaza Real, Suite 275 Boca Raton, FL 33432 P. (561) 826-0742 EXT 212 F. (561) 423-7791
    • Scam
      Would like to thank this site. Got call to be invited on a medical series for 8 episodes. Guy was named Bruce but similiar numbers and contact numbers I noticed here. Not sure what made me check scam other than when someone gives me pressure to make decision fast over large sum of money. Thank you!
      • Martin Sheen and impactptv.com
        Yup, got this call. These people are good, but way to good to be true until the $26,900 price tag pops up. Really glad this article was here. Thanks!
      • Martin Sheen
        Now the pitch is IMPACT Public TV with Martin Sheen
      • same thing here
        I was contacted today with the Martin Sheen plug and they wanted $27K. Had that Blink moment when it sounded like a scam.
      • Breakthroughs
        This is definitely a scam. We have been scammed and are taking action against In Focus and Martin Sheen. Contact us if you wish to know more. Peter Clutton acedeal@onthenet.com.au
        • Same scam call
          I was contacted by Regina, regarding Break Throughs with Martin Sheen. I smelled scam. This is her contact information: 561-826-0677, ext. 286. breakthroughsptv.com I told her she could email the information. I have not received anything-no surprise there!
        • BreakThroughs With Martin Sheen my eye :)
          Was called by Alex Stone, thought I smelled scam when he asked for $24K. Thanks for alerting us! I hope no one falls to this. Here are the details of the man that's been contacting me. Alex Stone Producer www.breakthroughsptv.com P. (561) 826-0677, EXT 216 F. (561) 423-7791
        • Tyler Cage Scam
          Just got the same pitch, and it totally sounded legit until they go to the production cost then it was we would like to have 27k and you will get 60 million blah blah. Thank god I already do a show and know they were full of it just as soon as they asked for the 27k.
        • Break through matrin sheen
          Infocus show is now called break throughs'!!! Dont give them momey. Its a scam They r based outmof boca raton florida. Dont see how the people working there can live with themselves riping off people!!! $25000 and there is nothing to show for
        • In focus is out of focus
          The production company with Martin sheen is a scam. Took 25k from me and did NOT PRODUCE ANYTHING AND MY COMPANY RECEICED NO AIR TIME. Even their address to the Main office is wrong they are located in BOCA RATON florida at 370 Camino gardens. Suite400. 33486 Not the address they show on there website!! Thy also change the name of their company frequently and keep the same content It needs to be stopped. We work hard and the people there are stealing from honest works who run companies
          • Scam Artists
            The small college I work for was just approached by InFocus to interview our president. Several people were excited about the prospect of appearing on PBS with Martin Sheen hosting. I used to do PR professionally for a lobby group so I was asked to return the initial call but I did some research first. Just a little bit of research shows that the group is NOT a legitimate news outlet.Be warned!
          • please contact me
            I would like to talk about the ptv scam. You can also call 703.836.8808. They have also approached my company.
          • Latest on this scam
            Latest name in this same tired scam is Public Television Distributors, Inc. And their newest face is Martin Sheen. They are calling the show In Focus, but it is the same old song and dance, you pay big bucks for no guarantee of anything ever airing. Additionally, they have purchased a staggering number of domain names, started a Facebook and a Google +, and even made themselves a Wikipedia entry in an effort to appear legitimate, but be assured, In Focus with Martin Sheen is a SCAM. Repeat, InFocus with Martin Sheen is a scam! Not a report on a scam, an ACTUAL scam. Do not give money to Public Television Distributors, Inc and their show, they guarantee you nothing as return on a more than $20,000 investment.
            • Update on this scam
              Latest name in this same tired scam is Public Television Distributors, Inc. And their newest face is Martin Sheen. They are calling the show In Focus, but it is the same old song and dance, you pay big bucks for no guarantee of anything ever airing. Additionally, they have purchased a staggering number of domain names, started a Facebook and a Google +, and even made themselves a Wikipedia entry in an effort to appear legitimate, but be assured, In Focus with Martin Sheen is a SCAM. Repeat, InFocus with Martin Sheen is a scam! Not a report on a scam, an ACTUAL scam. Do not give money to Public Television Distributors, Inc and their show, they guarantee you nothing as return on a more than $20,000 investment.
            • Another Scam
              Hi, Are you aware of the highly publicized scam using PBS & Martin Sheen's Name: http://www.infocusptv.com? Please contact me @ (646(926-1095 Thanks, Carlson Yamamoto
              • Another Scam
                Last year, I was approached by these scam artist who called themselves "The Journal." I fell victim to these people, and as a result my investors and I are financially ruined. What's worse is after reporting this incident to the real Joan Lunden, and her Attorneys at Loeb & Loeb, there has not been any criminal/civil litigation initiated by Joan to protect more people from being victimized, and salvage her reputation. Placing a warning advisory on her site just isn't enough! These scams have gone on for several years now by the same people. I just looked at American Milestones website, and TheJournalol.com website which is the scam I was victimized...They are identical! Beware of Joan Lunden, Beware of The Journal, Beware of The American Milestone, Beware of Any Production Company Asking For Any Monies!
                • Watch out!
                  These guys contacted my little non-profit, and were VERY convincing, until they got to the money part. Their website is also quite plausible. What a scam! I can't believe they are getting away with this.
                • Boca Raton, home of TV scams
                  These ploys are familiar to PR professionals, a good reason why all requests relating to media go through the organization's communications office. Often, they'll call the CEO's office, get him/her excited about a program highlighting the organization, and hope that the boss directs the communications staff to work on this "opportunity."

                  This is pay-to-play, clear and simple. A surprising number of these companies and shows are based on Boca Raton, so queries from that area should immediately be suspect.

                  Lessons learned:
                  1. Don't fall for irresistible flattery.
                  2. Trust your communications professionals and have them vet opportunities for traps and strategic relevance.
                  3. Do your due diligence and beware of quick deadlines--one indication of a high-pressure scam.

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