Years ago, I worked as a paid intern for a small medical directory. For $300, I spent eight hours a day cold calling doctors’ offices to verify their contact information. At the time, I couldn’t understand why many of those who answered the phone were so cagey and sometimes outright hostile. I just wanted to verify their address and phone number.
Then, I started working at Better Business Bureau and learned of the myriad schemes that scammers use to get money or information from unsuspecting victims. I recently learned about one that involves con artists calling local businesses to verify a directory listing.
The victim listens to the scammers rattle off a list of facts or incomprehensible statements involving price and answer with a yes or no. Later, the scammers either doctor the call to make it sound like the victim agreed to a charge or replay the incomprehensible statement as proof the employee agreed. Then the scammer demands payment, sometimes more than $500.
If the business refuses to pay, the scammers may threaten legal action or try a sweeter approach and offer a discount. Often, the con artists call back multiple times until they get what they want.
Suddenly, I see those hours taking abuse from wary receptionists in a whole new light.
If you would like to protect your business from scams like this — and perhaps save the feelings of poor teenage employees of legitimate directories everywhere — then consider these tips, borrowed from the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection:
- Train your staff to spot this scam. Educate your employees about how this scam works. In addition to your regular receptionist, talk to everyone who may pick up the phone. Put a copy of this alert in employee mailboxes. Mention it in a staff meeting. Post it on the break room bulletin board or where employees clock in and out.
- Inspect your invoices. Depending on the size and nature of your business, consider implementing a purchase order system to make sure you’re paying only legitimate expenses. Compile a list of the companies you typically use for directory services, office supplies and other recurring expenses. Don’t pay for products or services you’re not sure you ordered.
- Verify to clarify. Many business directory scam artists are headquartered in Canada, but use post office boxes or mail drops to make it look like they are in the United States. Before paying, check them out for free at bbb.org, and read BBB’s report on them.
- File a complaint. If a scammer is sending you bogus bills, speak up. Visit bbb.org to complain to BBB. And let the FTC know by filing a complaint at ftc.gov or calling 877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). Concerned about business directory fraudsters’ threats to tarnish your credit if you don’t pay? Many will simply drop the matter — and may even provide a refund — if they know you’ve complained to BBB and law enforcement.
Have you or anyone you know been a victim? Share your stories with us.