Consumers seeking the benefits owed from promotions for free gas and groceries suffered another blow as a marketing company offering the program has filed for bankruptcy.
BBZ Resource Management of Arizona, which has distributed gas and grocery voucher offers throughout the Tampa Bay area over the past year, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization Friday. It listed liabilities as ranging from $1 million to $10 million.
The bankruptcy filing follows a series of troubles for the company, including a lawsuit by a former financial backer who called the operation a Ponzi scheme to defraud consumers.
In addition, the Oregon State Attorney General's Office said it was investigating BBZ for operating a pyramid scheme. The Better Business Bureau said last week it had received complaints from 40 states against BBZ.
BBZ Resource Management rose to the top of the free gas and grocery voucher business after the state Attorney General's Office in February shuttered Largo-Clearwater-based Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants, which popularized the program. Tidewater and BBZ sold vouchers to retailers, which used them as incentives for consumers to buy tires, furniture, electronics, cars and others products.
Retailers large and small paid as little as $5, $10, $15 or $25 for a voucher valued at as much as $500.
To receive the $500 in benefits, the marketing companies required consumers to buy $100 worth of gas or groceries and send in the receipts each month. In exchange, Tidewater and BBZ would send a $25 gift card monthly until the full value of the voucher was reached.
Not long after the programs started, consumers began complaining that they received few or no cards from the companies.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is investigating the gas voucher program along with state attorneys general.
The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office is also investigating Tidewater's operations.
Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.