Small Business Scams

They’re a Big Business. Here Are Just a Few of Them.

Fake Industry Directories

One of the most widely used and veteran small business scams is billing you for listing your company in an industry directory that no one else has ever heard of. There’s a reason for that: Many of those directories, however, simply don’t exist. And the odds are that many if not most of the ones that do exist probably aren’t consulted by anyone anyway.

The scammers who ostensibly produce these directories will contact their victims online or through the mail. Sometimes they will camouflage their offers as being industry-specific “yellow pages” in order to hoodwink a victim into thinking that there’s a connection to the real thing. They will supply a form for the representative of the small business to complete and sign. The information that has to be filled out includes the company’s name, contact information, a brief description, and possibly a list of products or services it offers. Scammers who do their homework will already have filled out the form and merely ask you to verify that all the information is correct and sign. Odds are that you may not see it, but the fine print will mention how much inclusion in the directory costs and that you agree to pay it. If you don’t catch that you’ll be billed and then bullied until you pay.

Domain Name Expiration Scam

Not all business scams target small firms. Some target all firms equally, small and large, new and established. One such ploy is the threat of URL expiration, also known as the domain expiration scam or domain name scam.

“Your web address is about to expire if you don’t pay immediately to renew your registration,” the email sent by a scammer masquerading as an internet registrar will say. Or it will be sent by someone claiming to be an attorney who informs you that his client, a businessman in a foreign country (where English is hardly spoken, to make it difficult for you to confirm he even exists) has established a company that has filed a request to register your URL with his local country domain suffix instead of yours. To prevent that, you will have to pay a large sum to purchase the local URL.

In each case the text will say that time is off the essence and if you don’t act now you will lose your company URL in the first scenario or become entangled in complex international litigation that could affect your right to do business in that foreign country in the second. Rather than lose precious time and investigate, you just cough up the money and pay it as another tax-deductible business expense.

Logo Trademark Expiration Scam

Scammers who’ve done their homework have another canned email they send to businesses with new corporate logos. They will claim that you owe money for the trademark registration and, of course, if the debt is not paid immediately you will lose all rights to the logo. This scam typically focuses on smaller businesses, which most likely will not have an attorney on the staff who specializes in trademark law and who would know from the start that this is a fraud.

Fake Local Charities

It’s not unusual for a small business to be approached by local charities like the police benevolent fund, the local volunteer fire department or ambulance service, the PTA at the closest school in the neighborhood, the local hospital, or some other worthy cause. Sometimes they’ll ask you to place an ad in their annual publication or next year’s calendar, or help underwrite a worthy program by making a donation. It’s hard to say no and it’s also a good business practice to oblige, which is why scammers frequently make those calls themselves, impersonating representatives of those legitimate organizations.

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