Business owner scammed by online advertising company

If you own a business and receive a bill for online advertising you didn't approve, don't pay the bill. A Milwaukee area business owner, Ken Hurzeler, received a $445 bill from 411 Business Direct, a Miami company that offers paid listings in an online business directory. The problem was that he never agreed to advertise with them.

Hurzeler says the company contacted him about three months ago about advertising, but he did not agree to advertise. He says he asked them to send him more information. When he didn't pay the bill, 411 Business Direct started making repeated phone calls to the company, demanding payment.

Consumer Protection officials think they know what's going on. Companies like this send a bill, hoping that the business owner will believe that he agreed to advertising, even when he didn't. They're hoping the business owner will just pay the bill, rather than deal with the hassle of getting it canceled.

And indeed, it looks like 411 Business Direct has had some problems, as the Florida company has received several consumer complaints there. The Better Business Bureau cites 167 unresolved complaints against this company just in southeast Florida. A company representative said there have been some billing mistakes that have upset customers. (Of course they didn't admit to doing anything wrong.)

The moral of the story? If you own a business and you're going to do any advertising, especially with a little-known company in a place far away, make sure it is all documented. Have a contract in hand, or at the very least, an email that outlines what you're getting and how much you're paying. If you receive a bill for advertising you didn't approve, do not pay it. Let's not let companies get away with these scams.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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