Eric Fortier says this artist’s rendering of his invention, a disposable ash tray, was all he got for the $6,000 he sent to an invention promotion firm.

Eric Fortier used to build airplanes at Boeing, but that was before Sept. 11, 2001. He was laid off soon after in the economic fallout from the terrorist attack. One night, while musing how they would provide for their two special needs children, Fortier and his wife, Tina, figured they’d found their answer while watching television. An infomercial about NewInventions described an easy process for turning a simple invention into a steady revenue stream.

The firm only asked for $500 at first. A flurry of optimistic letters and phone calls followed, suggesting the invention was a winner. Another $3,000 was sent, gleaned from family and friends turned fellow investors, and back came a business plan. An impressive-looking binder arrived in the mail, complete with an artist’s rendering of the product and a market survey. It indicated a potential market size of more than $1 billion for the disposable ash tray.

Then, the firm asked for another $3,000 to begin marketing, and to build a Web site.

Soon after Fortier wrote that check, fell silent. The promised Web site never materialized. Phone calls and letters weren’t returned. A visit to the NewInventions office in Florida by Fortier’s brother-in-law revealed the ugly truth: The office was empty, but for a few party balloons left on the floor and a pile of mail inside the door.

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