Small Business Owners Beware!
As a local business owner, you’re always keeping a close eye on expenses and cash flow. Becoming a victim to a common scam can be devastating, if not extremely annoying to a business. Unfortunately, there continues to be individuals and companies that prey on innocent and unsuspecting honest business owners. To help you protect your hard-earned money, we’ve listed a few of the popular small business scams and how to avoid them.
“Google Listing” Telemarketing Scam
It seems like multiple times each month, we receive an automated telemarketing call with a message informing us that our Google listing has not been claimed. There are many iterations of this message, but they pretty much all try to convey that they are a partner of Google, or calling on Google’s behalf.
Truthfully, how many times has Google called you to discuss your business without you requesting them to call? Your answer here should be zero. If your answer is anything other than zero, then most likely, you were not actually speaking with a Google representative. Google only calls your business when you request it, and these calls are usually automated. Sadly, there are several third party telemarketers that call claiming to be a Google representative urging you to “update your business listing.”
It can be terrifying as a small business owner to receive a call and the person on the other line says “Your Google listing will be deleted in 72 hours if you don’t verify it with us right away” or something very similar. Often times they’ll also require a payment made in order for your business to be verified, and you’re likely to give them the information you believe they need in order to keep your Google listing from being deleted. This is exactly the reaction the scammers are looking for.
What to Do: Now that you know about this scam, here’s how to avoid it when it comes to your Google Local business listing.
First, simply hang up on the automated message. They offer an option to press a certain number to be removed from their call list. We recommend you don’t even do this; since these companies already stoop to robo-dialing to get call thousands of business owners every day, they may flag your number as being a legitimate number and call you more often.
Do not EVER give any log in information to anyone. Google can verify your business and doesn’t need your log in information in order to do so. Once you give away your information, you’re giving permission for that person to change anything they want.
Don’t do business with someone that claims to work with Google. Google employees don’t make cold calls, and they certainly don’t reinforce that they work for Google in order to try and seem credible.
There are advertising agencies that are certified Google Partners. These legitimate businesses can show you proof of their qualifications.
If you haven’t yet claimed your Google+, or Google My Business listing, do so immediately, or have a legitimate marketing company help you.
Also beware of companies who make claims that they can get you page one ranking on Google. No one can promise a number one rank or even a page one rank. They will often optimize you for an obscure keyword phrase, and charge you a good amount for something that won’t really benefit your business.
Verify who you are talking with. Get their company name, website, phone number, and some credentials. If they’re scamming you, they may not want to give their info, or they could give false information.
As a small business, you need a verified, well-optimized Google Local Business Listing. It’s a great idea to go in and claim and verify your Google local listing if you want to get your business in front of more customers. You can do this or you can trust a reputable company to help you optimize your local listings.
False Billing from “Yellow Pages”
Neither the name Yellow Pages nor the logo of the “walking fingers” are trademarked meaning scammers can easily use this largely known brand name to trick you into thinking you owe hundreds of dollars.
Typically with this scam, you will receive a call from someone representing an online business directory that they claim is an online version of the Yellow Pages. The caller tells you they are updating the directory and asks some basic information, address of the office, phone number, email, etc. After giving the information, the caller will repeat what you said back to you in order to confirm the listing.
Several weeks later your business will receive an invoice for several hundred dollars for an ad from the Yellow Pages online directory.
Shocked, you’ll call to complain only to have the representative tell you that you verbally confirmed the placement. They will even play back an altered recording so that you sound as if you were agreeing to place an advertisement. In reality, you were just confirming they had the information correct, or your “yes” and “no” answers to their questions were edited to show your approval.
This scam happens all too often. A variation of this is an official looking Yellow Pages invoice that you will receive in the mail. The small print will state that it is a solicitation, and not an invoice, but the overall look, feel and wording used makes it look like an invoice you owe.
What to Do: Do not confirm any information to a caller you do not know.
File a complaint with the BBB. Because this scam is so common, several hundreds of complaints against businesses accused of this scam have been resolved, thanks to business owners like you.
If you receive the solicitation letter/invoice, discard it.
Domain Name Registration Invoice
If you have recently secured a new domain name, you most likely have received a letter from the Internet Corporation Listing Service (ICLS.net). Their envelope and enclosed offer make it look like this is something you need to register your new domain name.
Their description of services states “Annual Website Search Engine Listing” and goes on to explain that they will submit your domain name to 25 established search engines and will provide you with quarterly reports for eight keyword/phrase
The price for their subscription is $65, and with that you get your domain name submitted to 25 “established” search engines, and quarterly search engine position and ranking reports for 8 keyword/phrase listings from 25 “major” search engines. They also offer discounted per-year rates if you pay for 2 or 5 years in advance.
Do not send money!
Search engines actively “search” the web looking for new sites and content. If your business is listed on major directories, it will likely be listed on smaller ones as well.
One BIG way you can tell this is a scam is the “25 major search engines” your business is promised to be submitted to. There are 3 major search engines, Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
To their credit, they make it clear that their letter is a solicitation and not a bill. At the bottom of the page, in bold type, it reads “You are under no obligation to make any payments…” However, if you do send in initial payment, they will invoice you on an annual basis, since you are agreeing to a subscription.
What to Do: The best way to avoid this scam – if you receive a piece of mail from the Internet Corporation Listing Service OR Domain Registry of America, disregard it and throw it away.
The Overpayment Scam
Do you sell products online? In this scam, a “buyer” will express interest in an expensive product and either send a check or make a credit card charge for more than the amount due. He or she will then ask you to refund the amount that has been overpaid, after the check has been deposited (or the charge made). However this realistic-looking check will bounce, or you’ll learn that the credit card is stolen, leaving you to pay the entire amount.
What to Do: Do not accept any check for more than the purchase price of the item(s) being sold. That should be your first clue that something is not right. If that doesn’t tip you off, remember to always verify the buyer’s address and contact details. If the buyer requests that you wire the refund back to him or her, this should also raise a red flag. Avoid wiring funds for any reason.
Replacement Toner Rippoff
In this scam, an innocent sounding salesperson will attempt to pose as a current vendor, looking to find a new hire, temporary worker, or any individual that is willing to give out information. They may even ask for something as simple as the model or serial number of a printer. Faced with what seems like such a harmless request, the employee often provides the information with no hesitation.
Now that they have this information, they will provide an incredible sale on the right toner for your machine. Of course, the deal is so good that the offer is based on a limited supply or limited time, pressuring the employee to act fast and get their money’s worth. While they may be somewhat cautious at this point, if the caller has already established the belief that they’re an approved vendor – the employee is liable to believe that the scan artist is able to authorize the sale.
Upon delivery, both the employee and the company are usually in store for a big surprise. Maybe the order was actually for a lower-rate toner sold at leading name brand price. Perhaps the case of toner contained far fewer cartridges than promised. Or most often you are charged an incredibly high amount for the toner you received.
When someone finally complains about the order, they will often go on the defensive and claim that the invoice is legitimate, stating that failing to pay could result in you being responsible for legal fines and fees. They may even elude that it was all an error on part of the salesperson and offer the products at a reduced, yet highly profitable price; one still much higher than you would have normally paid.
What to Do: Make sure your employees are aware of this scam, and set specific responsibilities for those that are allowed to place office supply orders. Only order from trusted companies.
Domain Name Purchasing Offer
Many businesses have a .net, .org or other extension for the domain they use, but do not have the .com extension. Don’t be surprised if you receive an email or letter offering you the .com domain for a bargain price — usually a couple of hundred dollars.
The “seller” doesn’t really own the domain but it may be available and the scammer may be operating legally — just trying to make a fast buck. Or someone may already own the domain and the “seller” is out to con you.
The solution: It is easy to check the availability of a domain. Any main domain reseller, such as GoDaddy, allows you to freely and easily check to see if a .com version of a domain is currently available. If it is, it will either be readily available for the normal price (under $15/year) or might have a premium price assigned to it. You can then decide on whether you want to secure the .com version of your domain. Certainly, you should never send money to an unknown individual who offers you a domain.
Unfortunately, due to the practices of a few unscrupulous individuals, small business owners need to vigilant to avoid becoming a victim of one of these scams. Educate your employees, implement processes, and don’t hesitate to search online to see if an offer is legitimate or not.