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BBB: Beware of scams that target small businesses

The Better Business Bureau serving Eastern North Carolina issued an alert this week recommending that small-business owners beware of the following scams that prey on small companies.

▪ Bogus Yellow Page ads: Businesses across the country have received what appear to be invoices for advertising space in the Yellow Pages directories. These invoices are often solicitations for listings in alternative business directories that may never be published. It is illegal to mail a bill or invoice that is really a solicitation, unless it bears specific disclaimers, including “This is not a bill.”

Businesses can protect themselves by alerting their accounting departments to be on the look out for disguised solicitations and by carefully checking suspicious bills from unfamiliar companies. Another version of this scam includes someone calling the business claiming they want to update the company’s entry in an online directory.

▪ Office supply scams: Small-business owners have reported receiving a shipment of office supplies they did not order, accompanied by an invoice that is often 10 times the value of the shipment. If owners receive supplies or bills for services that they did not order, the BBB recommends that they do not pay. Owners aren’t required to return unordered merchandise. 

▪ Phishing emails: Some phishing emails specifically target small businesses with the goal of hacking into their networks. Common examples include emails pretending to be from the IRS and claiming the company is being audited. Another example includes emails claiming to be from the BBB, stating the company has received a complaint.

If owners receive a suspicious email, they should not click on any links or open any attachments. Instead, they should contact the agency directly to confirm the legitimacy of the email. 

▪ Overpayment scams: Owners should be extremely cautious if a customer overpays using a check and then asks that the extra money be wired back.

▪ Vanity awards: Business owners have reported receiving emails stating they have won an award, but are asked to pay a fee to obtain a commemorative plaque.

Often, these awards are just money-making schemes and have no actual merit. If a business owner is approached about receiving a business or leadership award, they should research the opportunity carefully and be wary if they are asked to pay money. 

▪ Charity Pitches: Every year small businesses become victims of fraudulent or deceptive charitable solicitation schemes. BBB suggests that owners check out the BBB charity website Give.org before making a donation. 

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