By Brian Kieley


As the owner of a small business, you’re busy – serving customers, managing staff and tending to a million other things. The last thing you need is to fall prey to a scam artist.


Unfortunately, there are scammers out there who have finely-tuned sales pitches to get you to buy good or services that don’t exist. This could be space at a trade show that doesn’t exist, a booth at a weekend market with a “seller” that is not legitimate, registration in a business directory that isn’t distributed, or anything else you think may be useful to your business. The question is, how do you avoid scams but still invest in a growing business?


Here are five things you can do to protect yourself. 


Research the offer


Don’t accept offers without the name, address and contact information of the seller and, if related to an event, the event details. Check the seller and event websites, look at Google or other review websites to see what others say to see if there are complaints and check your local Better Business Bureau website for their rating. 


Get all the details, in writing, of what you’re buying


Read the fine print so you know if this is a one-time or recurring purchase, and if there are additional costs you’ll get hit with later. Remember, it’s easy to mock-up offers with logos to make it look legitimate when it really isn’t. For events like tradeshows and weekend markets, review the details of your space, know what’s covered in your fees (and what isn’t), and check the advertising and promotion plans. An event has no marketing value if no one attends.


Ask questions


If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you ask some tough questions, the scammer will likely move on to an easier target. 


Pay with a credit or debit card


If the service or product was not delivered as promised, notify your card issuer (their number is on the back of the card) to dispute the charge. Your issuer will manage the dispute for you and may provide you with a provisional credit so you can get your funds back quickly. Card companies have a lot of clout with vendors and merchants; legitimate companies can’t afford to compromise their ability to accept cards for payments. 


Report scams


If you do get scammed, report it. You can take the scam to your local police and can use your voice on social media – write reviews to warn others to avoid the pitfalls you encountered.


Unfortunately, scamming people is a business that can pay very well. Scammers work on percentages and sometimes it only takes a few people to buy in to make the fraud profitable.  You can protect yourself, your business and your reputation with these few easy steps.



About the Author


Brian Kieley is financial services business professional and SCORE Austin mentor. With thanks to Ralph Coker of the San Antonio SCORE office and Kelly Trevino, regional director, BBB, who contributed to this article.


5 easy steps to help small businesses avoid scams