Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.
Since I began working at Better Business Bureau more than four years ago, I have learned a lot: how to be a smarter consumer, how a business ought to handle complaints, the warning signs of a scam and what various government agencies can do to help people. I do still make mistakes—for example, I certainly did not choose the best repair shop when my car broke down last year! But I am much more confident and calm in how I handle troubling situations, thanks to the knowledge I’ve gained from BBB. (And I was able to resolve the car situation.)
Education is key when it comes to protecting yourself and your business from fraudsters. To avoid falling victim to three of the most common business scams, everyone in your office needs to be alert and aware.
Labor law poster scam: An important-looking letter addressed to your company informs you that you need to order new versions of some labor law posters. Attached is an order form for you to fill out and return along with payment, which can be up to several hundred dollars. The wording in the letter implies that failure to pay for these posters will result in your company being out of compliance with state and federal labor laws—and there could be legal ramifications.
- How to protect your business: There are, in fact, certain posters that need to be displayed in every workplace according to the law. However, the posters can be obtained for free from your state labor department. In Oregon, contact the Bureau of Labor & Industries at (971) 673-0761 or oregon.gov/boli for details on which posters you need and how to order them.
Office supplies scam: A delivery of office supplies arrives on your company’s doorstep, and an employee pays for them, assuming a colleague must have placed an order. But it turns out the box contains items you didn’t order and don’t need, or it’s completely empty.
- How to protect your business: Make sure your company has a formal process for ordering office supplies, paying for them and accepting deliveries. If you keep track of all orders placed, the employee responsible for accepting deliveries should be able to match any shipment to the tracking sheet before accepting it.
Directory listing scam: You receive a phone call asking to update or confirm your company’s contact information in a business directory listing, and you’re led to believe it’s the Yellow Pages. A short time later, you receive an invoice for hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a listing in a directory you’ve never heard of—and, typically, one that doesn’t even exist. Unsuspecting employees may pay the bill, not realizing you never agreed to the charges. If you refuse to pay or try to cancel your listing, the scammers threaten you with legal action and aggressive collection tactics. They may even play back a doctored recording of your phone conversation as “proof” of your agreement to the charges.
- How to protect your business: Steer clear of solicitations for directory listings. Instead, be proactive and selective about which directories you want your business to be listed in, and contact them yourself to initiate a listing. When the time comes to renew, verify any contact from someone claiming to be with the directory company.
If you are aware of a sketchy company or if you have fallen victim to a scam, report your experience to Better Business Bureau at (503) 212-3022 or oregon.bbb.org and the Federal Trade Commission at (877) 382-4357 or ftc.gov. The knowledge you share could save countless businesses from becoming victims themselves.