Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, people everywhere have shown that they will step up and do the right thing in a crisis. Unfortunately, times like these also reveal that scammers don’t take any breaks. In fact, times of crisis are fuel to a scammers’ fire. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Better Business Bureau® of Greater Maryland has seen an increase in the number of scams reported to BBB’s Scam Tracker, as reports more than quadrupled from March to April, 2020. As business owners search for financial assistance, seek out much-needed guidance, and work in greater isolation, they are more vulnerable than ever before.
Two scams currently impacting business owners in our area include sales solicitations for legal business documents that business owners can obtain themselves and business coaches who are collecting fees and failing to deliver their services. BBB shares how these scams work and tips to avoid the loss of your hard earned cash.
Don’t pay a middleman
The most dangerous scams are those that seem like legitimate communications because these can command attention and create a sense of urgency. A number of recent reports made to BBB’s Scam Tracker describe letters soliciting new business owners to pay $87.25 for an unnecessary Certificate of Status (Good Standing) processing service. The Maryland Attorney General’s office first made the public aware of this scheme in December 2019, urging business owners not to respond to the letter. Despite the Attorney General’s alert, Maryland businesses continue to receive these solicitations. The solicitation letter even states that a Certificate of Status may be required for loan applications, tax purposes, or required licenses. However, you can easily request a Certificate of Status online through Maryland’s Department of Assessments and Taxation for $20. Involving an unnecessary middleman could delay your certificate, or it could even be detrimental to your ability to obtain a Certificate of Status.
Not all coaches are created equal
As you plan for the future of your business, you may consider hiring a business coach for guidance. Be sure you’re getting your money’s worth, and hire a coach who’s invested in your success. Another scheme currently plaguing Maryland businesses involves coaches who take payments but fail to deliver the mentorship experience. One coach with a Maryland address has received 13 complaints alleging that the business failed to deliver training sessions and ceased all communications with these customers, even blocking some on social media. BBB further identified that the coach was using a UPS store as their only address, their business entity registration was forfeited, and their advertised certification standing was false. If you’re in the market for a coach, look for someone who displays a clear interest in your business and goals. In addition, seek out an expert whose experience aligns with your vision. Finally, ask for references from their past clients, and be sure to verify them through BBB.org. Because business coaching is a largely unregulated business, it’s necessary that you do your research before hiring a coach.
Tips for small businesses
· Always do your research. Whether hiring a business coach or applying for licenses and certifications, you can never have too much information. Do your research to ensure you’re getting exactly what your business needs.
· Be careful with unsolicited communications. Scams often begin with an unsolicited call, email, or letter. Make sure you know who you’re communicating with and what your information is being used for before providing it.
· Stay up to date on the latest scams, and keep your team informed. Scammers are constantly changing their tactics. Stay informed about the latest scams, and you’ll know what to look for.
· Check with BBB at BBB.org. You can learn about the latest scams affecting small businesses and find valuable information about fellow businesses you might be interested in working with.
Angie Barnett is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland.