DAYTON — Scam artists have used phony invoices for years targeting business owners and their employees. Scammers use them to fool businesses into paying for products the business didn’t order and, in some cases, the products don’t even exist. Even the Better Business Bureau serving Dayton and the Miami Valley receives these bogus faxes, e-mails and mailings on occasion.
In fact, the local BBB received a fax flyer from Blue Rocket SEO earlier this month stating BBB owed $95.87 for search engine optimization. But, upon further investigation, BBB learned the invoice was bogus. For instance…
• The address on the piece was not BBB’s current address, but one from ten years ago.
•The address on the company’s website was different than the one on the fax flyer.
•The company that sent the flyer was allegedly from Houston, TX, but the company’s domain registration shows the Web site was created on November 28, 2017 with an IP location in Utah.
•The company is not registered with the Ohio or Texas Secretary of State.
•And, when a BBB team member tried to call the company, she received an automated message stating…
“Thank you for contacting Blue Rocket SEO to expedite help please e-mail us at email@example.com or visit us at bluerocketseo.com. Thank you and have a great day.”
There was not a way to leave a message or reach a live person.
•There were multiple reports from Ripoff Report about this company.
•A Google search found the address on the fax invoice (10878 Westheimer Rd., Box 102, Houston, TX 77072) to belong to The Mail Room, a mailing service company in Houston.
On Feb. 12, the BBB serving Houston, TX initiated an investigation on this company after receiving multiple inquiries via Scam Tracker, complaints and customer reviews. These reports state that businesses, like our local BBB, were sent or faxed invoices from Blue Rocket SEO indicating they all owed $95.87 for search engine optimization (SEO) services supposedly provided by the company. Similar to our local BBB, the businesses stated to BBB they never hired the company to perform these services. The businesses also state they attempted to call the company and received an automated message, which referred them to an e-mail address. They were unable to leave messages or speak to a live representative. BBB serving Houston e-mailed the company to obtain more information about its services and ascertain its physical location. As of February 23, 2018, the business has not yet responded to BBB’s inquiry.
Scams like this are far too common. Fake invoice scams come in different shapes and sizes. For instance, some are invoices for directory listings, domain renewals, magazine subscriptions and/or office supplies. Technology has made it easy for scammers to make their invoices look legitimate. The U.S. Postal Service reports that phony invoice scam artists succeed in collecting a significant percentage of all the bills they mail, but notes that due to the nature of the crime, it is impossible to determine the exact extent of losses. However, the fact that these types of con artists mail thousands of phony invoices, and solicitations disguised as invoices, on a regular basis, points to an annual loss to businesses that may run into billions of dollars.
John North, president and CEO of BBB serving Dayton and the Miami Valley, says, “Many times, these scams are successful because the person in charge of processing invoices at the business isn’t aware of the scam, so the bill is handled normally and paid without further investigation. Some even use high-pressure or scare tactics. For instance, the invoice could be from a local, state/provincial or federal government agency for some kind of fee, tax or other assessment required to stay in compliance with the law. They may be stamped “Past Due” or are accompanied by threatening phone calls.”
Better Business Bureau offers tips to help avoid falling victim to these scams:
· Be wary of invoices which use similar or identical names as legitimate businesses.
· Educate yourself and your staff about phony invoices and solicitations.
· Designate certain employees to make business purchases. Channel all invoices through one department.
· Verify invoices and solicitations with the person who gave written or verbal authorization.
· Check your records to confirm claims of previous business dealing with a company or seller.
· Carefully read all invoices. Call the company directly to check if it’s an actual invoice from them.
· Do not be alarmed by language indicating an unfamiliar unpaid invoice will be forwarded to a collection agency.
· Always check that goods or services were both ordered and delivered before paying an invoice.
· Consider consolidating your domain registrations with a single registrar and make sure the domain is registered in your company’s name, not your vendors.
· Look closely at the company logo on the invoice. Many scammers scan the legitimate logo from a legitimate source and print it onto their own paper. The logo often won’t appear as sharp on a scanned version.
· Beware of invoices which are different from previous ones.
· Watch for invoices with even number totals. Be wary if you get an invoice and no tax was applied.
· Know your rights. If you receive supplies or invoices for services you didn’t order, don’t pay. It’s illegal for a seller to invoice you, send threatening notices for merchandise you didn’t order or ask you to return the merchandise.
If you feel you’ve been a victim, be sure to contact the Ohio Attorney General’s office at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/ or the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov. Also, report it to BBB Scam Tracker by visiting bbb.org/scamtracker.
Remember, be sure to research every company you do business with, including checking it out with BBB. To help with your search, BBB can provide a list of BBB Accredited Businesses in specific industries and Business Reviews on companies you’re considering. Visit www.bbb.org or calling (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301.