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Scam Alert

Scammers Target Small Businesses

Marketing and promotion ploys leave business owners ripe for a rip-off

One way to detect a scam email: hover your computer mouse over any link in the message, without clicking. This should cause the link to display its underlying address. If it's a third-party website, that's a sign of a con. So don't click on it.

"Best of" bamboozles. For years, questionable "who's who"-type directories have fed on the money and vanity of supposed elite business leaders. In reality, selectees are recruited with mass-mailing invites in hopes they'll buy a keepsake copy for up to $900. But beware of other fake awards.

In one longtime ruse that has recently been turning up again, businesses are told they've won a "best of" honor like those touted in regional magazines — and for $100 or more, they can get a commemorative plaque to hang by the front counter. Sure, you may want a memento, but it's worthless and often made by a company calling itself the U.S. Commerce Association, a name that seems intended to make you think it's part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose 3 million-plus members include many small businesses.

Despite warnings by the Better Business Bureau, the U.S. Commerce Association (whose company addresses are actually rented mailboxes) has been back to its old tricks, targeting business owners in several cities. Like "who's who" directories, no specific achievement is necessary to be one of its "best of" winners — and those who pay later get bombarded with more spam for similar honors.

Scam Alert was unsuccessful in trying to reach the company; its primary website has been taken down, and it did not respond to emails sent to a new "awards program" website, which provides no telephone number.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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