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Caldwell: Don’t fall victim to business-targeting scams

Louisiana businesses are susceptible to consumer fraud just like individual consumers, and scams that target small businesses and nonprofit organizations appear to be increasing.

Scam artists employ deceptive tactics like issuing fake invoices or delivering unsolicited office supplies. However, there are several ways small businesses and organizations can protect themselves from big headaches and bigger expenses.

Con artists recognize our small business owners work hard, so they count on employees to be too busy to notice an invoice that seems unusual or inventory items that appear to be out of place. Educating employees about how these scammers operate and making sure to double-check the validity of every bill is the best way to stop these criminals.

Scammers may send letters instructing business owners to pay money immediately in order to file documents which do not require a filing fee, or con artists may send phony invoices along with toner cartridges or other office supplies that were never requested or ordered.

We encourage small business owners to be aware of these types of scams:

Directory Listing Scams: In this scam, businesses may receive seemingly innocuous calls, faxes or emails in attempts to get information placed in business directories that may not even exist. Scammers then demand payment or try to trick business owners into believing that they had authorized payment for such a listing. Many business owners pay up just to stop the annoying collection tactics used by the scammers.

Office Supply Swindles: Con artists take advantage of the fact that many small businesses do not have a formal procurement process in place. Unsuspecting employees are persuaded to agree to paying for supplies that show up at the door, but had not been previously ordered. Scammers may then use high-pressure threats if the business refuses to pay for the supplies.

URL/Trademark Scams: In another fake invoice scheme, scammers threaten to yank a business’s web domain registration unless they pay a fake bill to keep it from “expiring.” A variation of this scam involves fraudsters sending letters warning businesses that they’ll lose their trademark if a fee isn’t paid immediately.

Check Cheats: Businesses may get a phony refund or rebate check that looks deceptively real. Business owners who don’t read the fine print on the document may be agreeing to be billed monthly for something they don’t want or need, like Internet access or a listing on an online directory.

Companies can protect their bottom line against scams and fraud by following this advice:

• Educate employees on how the scams work. Every employee who answers incoming calls should know about these kinds of scams. Employers may want to mention common scams during staff meetings or distribute information through employee email or on bulletin boards.

• Closely inspect all invoices prior to paying them, and consider implementing a purchase order system to make sure only legitimate expenses are paid. At the very least, identify a small group of employees who are authorized to purchase items or pay bills.

• Make sure to verify with banks, credit card companies or government agencies before responding to messages or unsolicited calls that appear to be from those entities. Do research on business directory companies through the Better Business Bureau or the Attorney General’s Office.

• File a dispute with the Attorney General Consumer Protection Section if bogus bills are received. Visit www.AGBuddyCaldwell.com or call (800) 351-4889.

James D. “Buddy” Caldwell is attorney general for the state of Louisiana. His office is located at 1885 N. Third St. in Baton Rouge, and he can be reached at 225-326-6079.