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BBB Business Scam Alert: Entrepreneurs beware of fake marketing services for small businesses

Small business owners are passionate, dedicated individuals who have accumulated years of expertise in an industry. Through time and experience, they often have found ways to improve processes and use that knowledge to the benefit of their customers and clients. However, one aspect of business ownership they may not be as familiar with is marketing.

Many small business owners turn to marketing agencies and firms to handle their online presence or advertisement needs. Unfortunately, the demand for these services opens the opportunity for scammers to take advantage of small business owners. BBB Scam Tracker receives multiple reports across the nation of phony businesses tricking small business owners into signing monthly contracts for services that are never rendered.

How the Scam Works

A small business owner seeking a low-cost marketing service discovers a company that offers exactly what they are 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 signs up and submits payment, the company becomes difficult to communicate with. 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 company once payment has been processed becomes nearly impossible and attempts to cancel the service go unanswered, requiring the business owner to cancel the card associated with the account.

How to Spot Fake Services

Research companies thoroughly before hiring. Spend 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. Search for customer complaints and reviews about their services on BBB.org. Legitimate marketing companies take pride in their digital presence because it is often the most-requested service of their clients and provides an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities. Use this chance to evaluate how the company positions or advertises itself and whether it would be a good fit for your business needs.

Check the contact information. If the company possesses both a social media presence and a professional website, be sure to check for their contact information. If the company has no telephone number or physical address, that is a sign it may not be legitimate. If a telephone number is listed, call it to make sure it is in service and verify the physical address is associated with the company name by searching online. Scammers will often use the addresses for vacant properties for their own purposes.

Reach out to references. Reach out to the references provided by a company to verify they have not been fabricated. Make certain it is possible to contact the people on the list 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 on some review platforms can be fabricated. Learn more about BBB’s review vetting process on BBB.org.

Understand what you are paying for. A reputable company will be able to clearly describe their services and the expected timeline to receive marketing materials before a potential customer pays for those services. Spend the time to understand the services, their scope, how they will be delivered (email, mail, social media posting, etc.) and when they will be provided. If any of these elements are unclear or if details about payments are vague, look elsewhere for services.

Use protected payment methods. Be cautious of any company that insists on payment for services by wire transfers, gift cards or pre-paid debit cards. If someone demands payment in one of these ways, it is probably a scam. Even if using a trusted company, BBB recommends always paying with a credit card for the additional protections it provides in case problems arise and you would like to dispute charges.

For more information visit BBB.org/BizHQ.