As small business owners, it seems we are constantly receiving calls verifying our business information. In the slower season it can be 4-6 calls per day, though it seems to slow down a bit in the busy season.
Not long ago, a thread on an online innkeepers’ forum discussed this issue, and it seemed appropriate to discuss it here, as well, for a broader audience.
It is the nature of innkeepers to want to be helpful, so verifying business information seems helpful, painless and appropriate. The last thing we want to do is to be rude to a caller. In fact the majority of these calls seem legitimate (the very essence of the con, you might say), and most of the time we hear nothing more, so we assume they were indeed legitimate. Perhaps they were, but still they robbed us of time – sometimes of time that should have been spent assisting guests at our B&B, or doing the countless other marketing, administrative, maintenance, or other tasks the business requires.
One recently stood out, as we did hear from them again, and it wasn’t pleasant.
We received the call in October, “verifying business information” to make sure it would benefit our Google Local listing. Gosh, that’s the very thing most SEO experts tell us to do – verify our business information to help our placement on Google Local. We verified it, and then were asked to pay for an advertisement. We declined. Then came the hard sell. We declined more firmly, and that was the end. Or so we thought.
In February we received a call from “an attorney” wanted to get payment on the outstanding invoice for $599. We explained that we hadn’t ordered the advertisement, hadn’t received the invoice, and were not going to pay it. He played a recording of our agreement to pay, which we disputed. Because of online resources like the Professional Association of Innkeepers (PAII) forum, we also told the caller that we were aware that this was a scam and we intended to notify the appropriate authorities. A few days later he called again, demanded payment, and was told the same things. He laughed when we said we would contact the authorities, saying he thought we were going to do that already, and since he hadn’t heard from them, he guessed we weren’t serious.
Interestingly, we then searched their name “online local yellow pages” – what a surprise! The company does not have a web page that appears in the Google search results. However, there are several listings of forums for consumer or small business complaints, filled with stories that all sound pretty much the same as ours. Try it yourself!
One of the best results that came up is an article by consumer advocate Denise Richardson, detailing this type of scam and filled with information about what to do about it. I highly recommend it.
Oh, and we did report this incident to the authorities – and you can too. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) collects the information and provides it to the proper law enforcement or regulatory agency. If you think you’ve been a victim of a crime or attempted crime, check out their site to see if filing a complaint is appropriate.
One more thing – we don’t talk to people who are verifying business information any more. Sorry to be rude, but no.