Small business owners are passionate and dedicated people who have accumulated years of expertise in an industry. Over time and experience, they have often found ways to improve processes and use this knowledge to benefit their customers. However, one aspect of business ownership that they may not be as familiar with is marketing.
To overcome their lack of experience in attracting new clients, many small business owners turn to marketing agencies and firms to manage their online presence or advertising needs. Unfortunately, the demand for these services opens up the possibility for scammers to take advantage of small business owners. BBB Scam Tracker receives multiple reports across the country of bogus companies tricking small business owners into signing monthly contracts for services that are never rendered.
How the scam works
A small business owner looking for a low-cost marketing service discovers a company that offers exactly what he is looking for. The company may claim to offer public relations, search engine optimization or other general marketing support for a low monthly fee, often promising amazing results.
Once a small business owner has registered and submitted payment, it becomes difficult to communicate with the business. They may constantly postpone or delay promised marketing materials, such as social media posts, graphics, or logos. In many cases, getting in touch with the business once the payment has been processed becomes nearly impossible and attempts to cancel service go unanswered, forcing the business owner to cancel the card associated with the account.
Earlier this year, a Texas-based company reported to BBB Scam Tracker that it received a $790 bill in the mail for advertising services in a local magazine that it did not approve and did not receive. no prior contact with the alleged advertising agency.
“We didn’t endorse anything like this and immediately knew it was a scam,” the company reported. “It appears after some research that this was a scam and took place in multiple states.”
How to spot fake services
Research companies thoroughly before hiring. Take the time to research and get to know the company well before contacting them. Make sure their website is professional and their social media accounts are real. Look for customer complaints and reviews of their services on BBB.org. Legitimate marketing companies pride themselves on their digital presence because it’s often the service most requested by their customers and gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities. Take this opportunity to assess how the business is positioning itself or branding itself and whether it would serve your business needs well.
Check contact information. If the company has both a social media presence and a professional website, be sure to check their contact information. If the company doesn’t have a phone number or physical address, that’s a sign that it may not be legit. If a phone number is listed, call it to make sure it’s in service, and verify that the physical address is associated with the business name by searching online. Scammers often use vacant property addresses for their own purposes.
Contact references. Contact part numbers provided by a company to verify that they were not manufactured. Make sure the people on the list can be contacted and research their names online to make sure they are real people with legitimate small businesses. Keep in mind that online testimonials posted on websites or some review platforms may be fabricated. Learn more about BBB’s review verification process at BBB.org.
Understand what you are paying. A reputable company will be able to clearly outline their services and the expected time frame to receive marketing materials before a potential customer pays for those services. Take the time to understand the services, their scope, how they will be provided (email, post, social media posting, etc.) and when they will be provided. If any of these are unclear or the payment details are vague, look for services elsewhere.
Use secure payment methods. Beware of any company that insists on paying for services by wire transfer, gift cards, or prepaid debit cards. If someone asks for payment in any of these ways, it’s probably a scam. Even if you’re using a trusted company, BBB recommends always paying with a credit card for the extra protections they offer should you have a problem and want to dispute the charges.