Protecting small businesses from imposters

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By Laura Solis
Attorney, Federal Trade Commission
January 15, 2020

Opening a business requires planning, elbow grease, and probably some paperwork to register your new company with your state or local government. And that’s where some not-so-honest outfits may try to confuse you into thinking they’re from the government and that you need to pay money to complete your registration. Their mailings look like an official bill for documents to complete your registration – and may even include what looks like a government seal. To convince you it’s legit, the mailer may include your business identification number. To get you to pay, the mailer claims that you need to hurry up and pay or you could be in legal hot water.

But here’s the thing: the people behind the mailers are not from the government and you probably don’t need the paperwork they’re talking about, at least not to complete your registration. At best, you’ll get overcharged. At worst, they could be scammers who steal your money or account information. What can you do to steer clear of these schemes?

Spread the word. The best defense is to be sure everyone at your workplace knows about this scam and how it works. Scammers often target several people in an organization to create confusion. Are you part of a business networking group or service organization? Help your fellow businesspeople and fill them in on these schemes.

Check all invoices closely. Be sure that you have clear procedures to approve expenditures, and that major spending can’t be triggered by an unexpected call, email, or invoice. If you get one of these mailers, you may need to check in with the people on your staff who are responsible for filing legal documents with the state.

Pay attention to how you pay. If someone tells you to pay with a wire transfer, reloadable card, gift card, or bitcoin, you can bet it’s a scam.

If you spot practices like this, we want to hear about it. Tell us at ftc.gov/complaint.

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