As a young child I was fortunate enough to get to work with my father and he used to teach me about things to look out for in business. The first story I ever heard about unethical business practices was a company that sent small bills for snow plowing to companies and the accounts receivable departments assumed they were legitimate and just paid them. Only when they sent a bill to an area of the country where there was no snow did they get caught.
The premise of the scam was that a company is likely in need of the service you are fictitiously billing for, so there is a high degree of likelihood they will pay because the bill is too small to check.
Similarly, scammers are able to rely on implicit familiarity to generate revenue from the unsuspecting. For example, many people know the yellow pages directory but the name is not unique… In fact there are many companies who leverage this name in order to trick customers. A small bill from the yellow pages may seem as innocuous as one from a snow plow company in fact.
In 2005 I wrote about Yellow Pages scams, specifically warning people not to fall for companies offering them free listings. Almost a decade later, the scam is still going strong costing small businesses millions of dollars. When I wrote about the problem, it was based on scammers sending a check to companies and in fine print it would commit those organizations to pay for listings.
Now these companies are using telemarketing and voice recordings to get their victims to pay. Here is how it works. They call to verify your address and other information and record the call. They then send a bill for a listing your company never authorized. If you call to inquire, they then play back a doctored recording, which makes it seem like your company requested the listing.
The FTC (News - Alert) just went after a number of these companies operating in Montreal. A federal judge entered a $15.6 million judgment against the defendants and banned them from the directory business. The defendants are charged with law violations for misrepresenting that they had a preexisting business relationship with consumers that consumers had agreed to buy directory listings, and that consumers owed them money.
The point here is look out for these scams. Companies apply the same principles when selling you on the URL hustle – scaring you by saying your web address is about to expire. I covered this in a post about the four scams you need to watch out for.
Another one I wrote about was backup DNS services – something you should toss out as soon as you receive such a bill. Finally there are SEO services – if you hire a company, please be sure they know what they are doing. Over the years, many of them have been hired and their method of operations caused them to load the web with crap comment spam. In other words they would find a review of a Honda Civic and at the bottom, place a comment like, “I just bought a new Samsung (News - Alert) Galaxy S4 for $25 and you can too at cheapgalaxyphonesrus.com.” Search engines now penalize companies for these sorts of low-quality unrelated links and as a result, companies need to go and clean up the mess these “experts” left behind.
Bottom line: be careful – there are a lot of bad actors out there looking to help you part with your hard-earned money. Worst of all, there seems to be no jail time being given out here meaning the expertise at deceiving the public may just get transferred to others who will launch a bunch of new companies targeting the unsuspecting. Who knew that the idea behind the snow plow scam would still be working really well so many decades later?
Edited by Maurice Nagle