By now, most of us are more than aware of some of the more common personal scams. For instance, there is the person who sends an email from Nigeria claiming to need funds in order to send you your lottery winnings, even though you didn’t enter one. Or the long lost family member who you didn’t know you had (and really don’t), but somehow he or she left you a fortune and all you have to do is send a few thousand dollars to collect.
However, as a small business owner, you also have to guard yourself against scams created by people who claim to be legitimate businesses too, even though they aren’t. Or, almost worse yet, some actually are true and actual business owners, yet they aren’t ethical, and collect their fees and payments primarily by scamming people into paying them, even though they didn’t intentionally sign up for their products or services.
Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published a Small Business Scams brochure outlining five of the most common B2B scams. Becoming familiar with these can help you know what to look for, potentially keeping you from becoming just another victim to their shameful ploys. They are:
- The Directory Listing Scam. If a company calls and wants to confirm your business’ information, it’s possible that the person on the other end of the line is a scammer who is going to send you an invoice for a listing, even though all you or a staff member did was verify your address, phone number, website information, and such (they do this by falsifying the recording to make it sound like you agreed to their service. Scammers who use this ploy also sometimes send an email or postcard asking you to verify your information in writing, but the costs associated with a response are located in very small print, greatly reducing the odds that you won’t see them. So when you send the request back thinking that all you’re doing is verifying your information, what you’re actually doing is signing up for their service. Sadly, some small business owners wind up paying the fees requested just to avoid being referred to debt collection or having to go to court.
- The Supply Swindle. This scam involves a company sending your small business supplies or calling to confirm the order of supplies. Once accepted or confirmed, they place you on the hook for their goods—even if you didn’t originally request them. Of course, identifying this scam requires that whomever is signing for or authorizing your deliveries and orders pays attention to the form or phone call to ensure that the company inquiring is the one you actually do business with.
- The URL Hustle. Identifying this scam requires that your payment processing agent knows who your website is through, because in this instance, the fake business will send you an email telling you that it’s time to renew your website or lose your URL. They do this even though they aren’t the ones holding your URL, and some small business owners will pay just because they don’t pay attention to who the bill is from.
- The Charity Con. This B2B scam is probably one of the easiest ones for dishonest people to get away with because a lot of small business owners have very big hearts and would do just about anything to help the communities they serve. So how do you tell if the charitable organization is for real or just another scam? If they’re local, you can check with others in the area to find out if anyone has heard of them. And if they claim to be tax exempt, the Internal Revenue Service has a website that enables you to do an exempt organization search, allowing you to verify if they are in fact listed.
- The Check Cheat. Last, but certainly not least, this B2B scam comes in the form of a check that you receive that appears to be a rebate or refund check from one of your suppliers. However, once you cash it, you start receiving invoices, as the fine print on the check says that cashing it confirms your acceptance of their offer to sign up for services, putting you on the hook for things you don’t even want.
Again, identifying these possible B2B scams is critical to keeping your small business from being victimized by them. Therefore, you might want to print this article or share this information with your staff so they don’t unintentionally sign you up for something you didn’t want, yet still wind up paying for in the end.
I’m always interested in learning other small business owners’ thoughts on relevant topics and issues, so if you have a comment or unique article idea, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org (put “Businessing Magazine” in the subject line, please). If I use it, it’s a free link to your website!