I was riding down a street in Covington recently listening to consumer advocate Clark Howard giving advice on WSB radio. A lady called in to ask how to handle a situation involving a company posing as a form of Yellow Pages. She had a business that relied heavily on Yellow Pages advertising so she knew it was important to have current advertisement in the book, but when she read the bill closely she realized it was not the real thing.
These people had not only sent her a bill for something she would not receive but also a bogus past-due notice for advertising. This lady was warning listeners of this scam and to let people know that scammers will go to great lengths to rip you off.
Here's where the story gets interesting.
After the call ended, I remembered that my assistant, Lerea Neely, had asked me a week before about how I wanted the Covington Police Department listed in the Yellow Pages. She told me that the bill seemed to have things listed improperly so she wanted to correct it if possible. Now to say I'm blessed to have Lerea keeping me straight is an understatement. (Most of you know Lerea from the former Main Street Bank where she worked with my dear friend Mr. Ron Carter whom we all miss!) Because she worked for the bank, she was trained to take a close look at all documents. She kept looking at the invoice and realized this was not the Yellow Pages but that same group the lady had called Clark Howard about.
I called her from my car and told her of the Clark Howard show and she told me that was the same issue she had found with our invoice. She kept looking for information that would seemingly be there if the invoice was legitimate such as an address, AT&T logo, or a contact name. None was found. She did find a toll-free telephone number, but of course those people didn't want to discuss the bill and told her to not worry about it. You see, even a police department is not immune from scams. Good job, Lerea.
In this world of Internet, digital copiers, and various other technologies that help people reach out to hundreds of thousands if not millions of people, scammers have more opportunities than ever to rip you off.
So how can you protect yourself?
Well, like Lerea and the lady on the radio, you need to know your business.
Pay attention to details, read all correspondence and if you are unsure of the details, call the company that sent it to you. If you can't easily find how to contact the company, that should be a major red flag that something is not right.
If the company is one that you know you haven't done business with and they are demanding past payments, by all means don't pay it.
Whatever you do, never give out a credit card number over the phone or access to your bank account if you are unsure with whom you're doing business.
It is easy to worry that your reputation is at stake if you are one who pays all bills on time. Your reputation is what the scammers are counting on. Don't rush to pay until you are sure it is a legitimate invoice or bill.
Scamming comes in many different forms.
As noted from the caller and from the invoice sent to the police department, some scammers send out bogus bills in hopes that you are too busy to do more than just scam the bill and just pay it. Others try to sell you something or provide a service that is not what it seems.
A great rule of thumb is never to do business with someone you didn't seek out for that service. Ask yourself why would I want my house painted by the guy who just showed up at my door. Why would I give money to a person who I don't know before I ever see any work done on my house that I didn't seek out the service myself?
People will try to sell you anything, and if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you need work done, rely on your family, friends, local church, and other trusted business people to guide you in the right direction.
If you ever have a question about a service someone is offering, get their telephone number and tell them you want to think about it. If they pressure you, then you know something is wrong. If you feel really uncomfortable, please call 911 and have an officer come out and discuss the situation with you.
Finally, if you feel you were a victim of a scam or attempted scam, please call the Covington Police Department so that we can attempt to stop the activity before someone else is a victim. Please use due diligence and play it safe.