Many starting and established small business owners are sole proprietors. This form of business ownership is easy to open and maintain; however, it exposes the personal assets and credit to liability and fraud. In many cases, if a sole proprietor is held accountable for a debt, the assets of the company are used to pay the debt. If those assets are exhausted, the personal assets of the owner are used to satisfy the remainder of the debt. The owner and the company are one entity – this includes profit, debt, and credit. Most scam companies are aware of this fact and use this information in order to scare small business into paying fraudulent invoices.
Below are two examples of how small businesses became victims of scammers:
- A small business owner receives an email stating that an invoice of $899.99 is due for services rendered. If the owner wants to get out of the one year contract, they will need to pay $499.99 for an early termination fee. The small business owner ignores the invoice knowing that it is false since the services were never requested. Time passes, the owner begins receiving emails threatening the owner stating that the owner will be reported for non-payment to a debt collector, legal action will be taken, and his credit score will be ruined. Out of fear for his personal assets and business, the owner pays the debt.
- A small business owner receives a call from a business directory company wishing to verify information about her business. The caller states that they received an inquiry and just want to validate the information. The small business owner fills in the blanks that the caller does not have (his contact information) and verifies information that can be publicly obtained (business address, phone number, and business title). The caller thanks the business owner and ends the call. Time passes and the owner receives a phone call or email stating that the owner owes $749.99 for a business listing that has been executed. The owner denies that she requested a paid listing. The company threatens to report the business for non-payment, threatens to take legal action, and promises her credit will be destroyed. The owner pays the debt in order to protect her business.
Sound familiar? If not, search the internet for “scam companies targeting small businesses”. The number of business owners victimized by scams is astounding. These hard working individuals were forced out of hundreds (in some cases thousands) of dollars in order to protect themselves. This stops now! Small business owners have rights and it is time to use them. If small business owners find themselves in a situation where a company is requesting money that is not due, do not pay the company. The following suggestions are not legal advice of any kind but helpful recommendations:
- DO NOT pay the invoice if you did not request services and have never heard of the company.
- Respond to the company stating that services were not requested and you have never spoken to anyone from this company before (if applicable).
- Request the following documents to prove payment should be enforced: signed contracts, all documents reflecting phone and/or email contact, names of all persons who allegedly spoke with you, all proof that services were contractually requested and actually rendered, and all records supporting your contention that money is owed.
- Send a letter to this company via registered mail to make sure it is received in case legal action needs to be taken.
- Keep all documentation and communications from the company.
Remember – a binding contract is only valid if it contains four essential elements: Agreement, Consideration, Competent Parties, and Legal Purpose. A contract is not binding if it does not have a valid offer and acceptance. The offer must be definite (meaning it cannot be vague – terms of service, price information, and subject matter must be cleared stated). It is understood that a court will not enforce a contract with unclear terms because it is unable to determine what both parties were trying to contract. Again, this is only information – this is not to be misconstrued as a legal advice in any way, shape, or form.
While awaiting a response, do some homework. If the internet provides a history of scams by this company – report them as well. The following websites can be used to submit reports of fraud: Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General’s Office for your state, Stopfraud.gov, plus many more. If time permits, check for statutes in your state that can be used to protect your business. For Florida, it is Section 559.72.
Don’t be a victim – report these companies and get them shut down!
***All information provided in this post is just that – information. This is not to be used as legal advice and Kopf Consulting is not to be held liable (directly or indirectly) for any and all actions taken by a business. Kopf Consulting does not endorse, make any representation, or accept any liability for third party sites or by the companies recommended in this article***
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