A booklet containing coupons for food and services worth $2,000 for just $39.95 turned out to be a deal too good to be true.

The "Shopper's Guide" coupon books were marketed by a now-defunct Iowa company and a mysterious distributor, neither of which were licensed to do business in Utah when the books were sold to northern Utahns.Phone numbers for both firms have been disconnected in Ogden, Iowa and California.

State consumer investigators now conclude the parties that sold the book have abandoned their boiler-room telemarketing operations in Utah and left the state.

"There were deceptive claims made to both the businesses and to consumers when they purchased the book," said Rob Meier, an investigator for the state Division of Consumer Protection, who has been checking out complaints from both buyers and merchants.

The coupon sales campaign began last spring when KVEZ Radio in Logan, an FM rock station that calls itself "Z-104," was contacted by Magnum Communications of Des Moines, Iowa.

It's standard operating procedure, said Meier, for out-of-state coupon marketers to obtain a local sponsor such as a radio station so it can avoid certain state requirements.

"We've dealt with this group for years," said former station owner Dan Gerard, who says he sold the station last month, "and we've never had a problem before.

"It's good exposure," he added. "It doesn't cost us anything, and it's a great way to get your call letters out all over the place."

With an agreement with KVEZ in place, Magnum began recruiting merchants in June and July, apparently working through a firm that calls itself Sears Marketing. The company is not linked in any way to Sears, Roebuck and Co.

A contract between Sears Marketing and local merchants limits the firm's role to that of an "advertiser" and is signed by a "J. Sears."

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The operation was that of a typical telemarketing "boiler room," where a business obtains a location and sells the coupon books over a bank of telephones. A Sears-Magnum runner would go to the buyer's home immediately to deliver the book and pick up money.

Records maintained by the Iowa secretary of state's office, however, indicate Magnum was administratively dissolved in October after filing articles of corporate dissolution. In addition, the company's registered agent resigned last May and there is no longer a Des Moines phone number for Magnum.

In Utah, state Division of Business Regulation records indicated Magnum had been registered at one time as a foreign corporation. But the company's certificate to do business in the Beehive State was revoked in June because it had failed to file the proper reports.

A division staffer said Sears Marketing is not registered to do business in Utah, and a California phone number for Sears listed on the advertising contract has been disconnected.

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