I have learned, since necessity (not mine) compelled me to work on the front desk at work, that scammers are well and truly alive and well.
The way they target small business is almost (almost) to be admired in the way they tell half truths and manipulate facts to make it seem they are a legitimate enterprise that you owe money to.
We are constantly the target of these dregs of humanity and I’ve been in very heated arguments with some.
They start by searching for your company details on the internet. A quick internet search of my business for instance will tell you the names of my in-laws and a picture of them.
They then ring and ask to speak to Sally (mother-in-law) and make out like they’re old friends while not ever actually identifying themselves or if they don’t get through to her they’ll try it on whoever answers the phone.
The story goes: “Thank you for your continued sponsorship of X (insert made up slightly charitable sounding business name). We are calling about your advertising in Y issue of X magazine. We were speaking to/emailing Sally about this yesterday. Can I please have your fax number to fax through an artwork proof?”.
The kicker is that the fax they send through blatantly says at the very top “THIS IS NOT AN INVOICE, YOU DO NOT OWE ANY MONEY”. If they did not state that fact in their fax, that’s entrapment, basically and is illegal. They skim the very edges of what’s legal hoping that the recipient is too stupid to realise they never agreed to anything or talk to anyone else in the office about it. The artwork they ‘put together for proof’ is never anything that our advertising department has worked on or approved. In fact the last one that tried to pull this on me huffed and puffed and hung up on me when I queried where he got the artwork because I most certainly did not send it through to them (phone numbers and business details were all wrong, so clearly it didn’t originate from us).
When you do not send through a fax back saying you approve the ad, they then phone you, ask to speak with a different person and then say that you are in breach of contract and they will sic their lawyers onto you if you don’t pay.
Scamwatch have a lovely little report about these advertising scams.
We had one yesterday. She rang up and asked to speak with John Lee and got put through to John. (We have a John AND a Lee that work together). Said that she was calling regarding advertising and can she send through a proof. John, being aware of the VERY public showdown I had with one late last year laughed and said no way. A fax comes through this morning with a fake ad (incorrect details again) and an invoice stating Payment Due NOW addressed to John. It was also marked THIS IS NOT AN INVOICE across the top. I faxed back saying “No thank you. This business does not sponsor advertisements through solicitation”. I know the fax is received because I checked.
Lady rings back and asks to speak with John again. He’s not here today. She says she’s looking for payment for the fax he approved (which we clearly know he didn’t). I said “No thank-you, no such advertisement was approved by me and I will not authorise any external payments without a purchase order on company letterhead”. She says it was for an ad placed several weeks ago. I say I doubt that is the case without a purchase order and she tells me that John authorised it on the 1st January. I tell her that is not possible as we were closed for three weeks over Christmas and New Years. She hangs up on me.
She rings back later and tries it again on someone else, offering a 10% discount if we pay this week.
The thing is, the way they obtain personal information about businesses is not illegal. Most business owners are listed on their company websites and have an online presence. It’s not hard to call up and misrepresent yourself as a potential client to obtain names and positions of people in the company.
But the very tools they they use against you, can be turned back on them. Last year I managed to ascertain through simple internet sleuthing that the company address for one pestering company was a mail receiving centre, their headquarters wasn’t listed on the building occupants list and a bunch of personal information about the “Managing Director” which clearly indicated that he was a scumbag (thank you Google, Google Earth, ABN registers and domain name registries). His own personal social media pages (stupidly not set to private) confirmed that. When they phoned to tell me they were in the process of lawyering up, I simply presented them with this information and never heard from them again.
The moral of the story is that there are dodgy people out there who have no issues lying their arses off to extort money from you – and they can be damn good at it if you’re not expecting it – using your own information, no doubt obtained from Google and other internet registries, against you.
Scumbags, I am on to you!