State accuses marketing firm of local fraud

State accuses marketing firm of local fraud

SHELBYVILLE – Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Universal Adcom, a Texas-based marketing company which allegedly sold advertisements to businesses that were led to believe a portion of the money they spent would be given to local sports teams and civic clubs.

The attorney general's Consumer Fraud Bureau in Springfield has been investigating Universal Adcom since 1996 when the office first started receiving complaints about the company. The office has reviewed a total of 27 complaints. Two complaints were filed by businesses in Vermilion County and one was filed in Champaign County, the attorney general's office said.

According to the suit, representatives from Universal Adcom called businesses in communities throughout Illinois and tried to sell them ad spaces in calendars, posters, sports schedules and other promotional items for high school sports teams and chambers of commerce.

The attorney general's office said no organization has ever received any money from Universal Adcom.

"It's important for people to be aware of this especially since we're right in the middle of the high school football season," said Melissa Merz, spokeswoman for Madigan's office.

Merz said consumers should always check with the attorney general's office, the Better Business Bureau or chambers of commerce to find out if any complaints have been filed against a company before conducting business with it.

Businesses that filed complaints alleged that Universal Adcom employees had told prospective buyers they were affiliated with a club or school when in fact no affiliation existed.

According to other complaints filed with the attorney general's office, Universal Adcom employees allegedly billed companies even if they declined to buy ads.

Businesses that purchased ads from Universal Adcom are now less likely to purchase ads for legitimate school fund-raising activities, the suit said.

The attorney general's office said the company violated Section 2 of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, by leading people to believe that it was affiliated with the school or civic group whose sports team schedule or calendar was being produced, leading people to believe that the money raised from the purchase of the ad would be given to the school programs, and for billing businesses for advertisements that were not ordered.

According to Section 7 of the act, the attorney general can fine a business $50,000 for each violation.

The attorney general also alleges Universal Adcom violated the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Practices Act.

The Arlington, Texas-based Universal Adcom has offices in Peoria, East Peoria and Moline, and is also known as High School Sports Promotion, All States Media, Premier Map Company and Hometown Productions.

The lawsuit was filed in Shelby County Circuit Court.

You can reach Christine des Garennes at (217) 351-5388 or via e-mail at cgarenne@news-gazette.com.

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