You receive an email offering a “service” to match “true professionals” like your company to paying customers, along with “certifying” your company as a legitimate enterprise. The only requirement is to submit your information to the website, with the potential to begin receiving referrals from prospective customers within minutes. On the other hand, the email warns that failure to sign up with the service will result in your company receiving a negative label of “not certified” and being subjected to receiving only negative reviews from visitors to its website.
Targeted for a Scam
While the email and the organization may look legitimate on the surface, in fact, your company has likely been targeted for a scam. That was recent the experience of an ACCA member company. However, a sharp-eyed person at the company recognized a number of red flags that signaled that this “service” was less than what it appeared. This member company, which did not wish to be identified by name for fear of retaliation, reported the scam to the Federal Trade Commission, according to a spokesperson for the company.
“We spend a ridiculous amount of time and money managing phone calls and emails with questionable legitimacy. This business cost can be burdensome for small businesses. We must train our CSRs how to identify and screen calls, buy software to protect our computer systems, invest in multiple backup systems, etc. We all need be vigilant protecting our coworkers’ and our clients’ personal information and be extremely careful about the outside services we give access to this data,” the company spokesperson stated.
Vigilance is indeed the best defense against attempted scams such as the one that targeted this company. Following the tips listed below can prevent your company from being victimized.
Too Good to Be True
“ (The organization claims that) ‘Our service is simple and easy, let us write a press release announcing your X certification that we guarantee will appear on at least 350 media sites or we will give you a 100% refund).’ MEDIA sites? That doesn’t mean anything. How can you prove they didn’t (announce your certification) to get your refund? “the spokesperson insisted.
The organization’s website also claims to offer malware and dark web security scanning. Without a doubt, malware and cyber security are important and legitimate concerns. However, the inclusion of this type of service seems questionable at best for an organization supposedly dedicated to providing certification for HVAC contractors. Meanwhile, the claim for “free” certification service turns out to be misleading, according to the company spokesperson.
“They say it is free to join and get certified, but when you check it out, you can see that the free membership does not get you fully certified -you won’t get a full endorsement without spending money-and let them scan your website for malware and security issues,” the spokesperson stated.
Beware of Deceptive .org Websites
The spokesperson also pointed out that the organization’s website had an .org domain. While many .org domains are primarily associated with nonprofit and social service organizations, there are no actual restrictions associated with .org domains. Unlike .edu and .gov domains, which may legally be registered only with specific domain registrars, .org domains can be purchased and used by any individual or organization – nonprofit or commercial.
“They make a big effort to legitimize themselves. They list every possible newspaper and news site, with their logos, but they only say about the list that: ‘Our average certified press release receives over 350 media placements, below is an example of where placements typically appear. We can get your business the exposure it deserves, and we guarantee it!’ (However, the company provides) no real commitment to get you listed in any of the listed, known sites. They seem to be trying to give the impression that they have legitimate government affiliation to certify companies licensing,” the spokesperson noted.
Obvious Red Flags
This organization claimed to be “a private consumer advocacy organization that oversees the proper licensing of HVAC and heating industry contractors and a platform for consumers to voice their opinions with local air conditioning and heating companies,” according to its website. However, a closer look at this statement reveals its absurdity. In particular, the phrase “HVAC and heating industry” is redundant, given that the “H” in HVAC stands for heating.
However, there are even more obvious problems associated with this organization. An online search for licensing and certifying organizations for the HVACR industry located in the United States or abroad fails to include this particular organization. Neither is it listed with the Better Business Bureau. The website itself does not include a contact phone number or email address.
Other red flags associated with this potential scam include poor grammar and punctuation. Awkward phrasing of the site’s content suggests that English might not be the first language for the person(s) responsible for assembling the website. The website also had an overall unprofessional appearance, as noted by the company spokesperson.
“Their website has familiar icons like the “I’m not a robot – CAPTCHA” icon so many sites use. (But) They don’t have the program or a test, just a box to check. There are a ridiculous number of American flags on their site, but they are not in the US,” the spokesperson explained. (In fact, the website for the organization lists an address in Nevis.)
Protect Yourself against Attempted Scams
The organization associated with this scan plays on the legitimate concerns of business owners for cyber security, along with relying on fear tactics designed to intimidate would-be victims into paying for its services, according to the company spokesperson.
“There are dire consequences listed for not using them ASAP and for everything they sell or do:
‘Even a single negative customer review can drastically affect your business’, and their website only allows negative feedback. The bit about how our website is unsafe and they can scan it so we can be assured our ‘customers’ information is not being stolen and sold on the dark web from an unknown virus or phishing’. The DARK WEB, ooooooooooo,” the company spokesperson stated, scoffing at the heavy-handed tactic.
The take home lesson: practicing due diligence can protect your company from being victimized by potential deceptive organization, according to the company representative.
“It looks like they just collect a lot of personal information and then refer them cold to lenders they could find themselves on Google. It really appears they are just after the information. They seem to be riding a line, if you give them all your information and they refer you to someone, they have not committed fraud. You just don’t need them, and there is a danger is trusting a place like this that has solicited you,” the representative stated.