Running a small business can be tumultuous as many small business owners take on the bulk of tasks involved in day-to-day operations. It becomes even more of a headache when scammers are part of the picture.
Please take my word for it. I know this from personal experience. I thought I knew about all the scams out there. I would consult my attorney or web designer before opening a suspicious email or deleting it from my account. What I wasn't prepared for was someone was something a bit more sophisticated. Why didn't I catch on earlier? Good question. I should have. My internal alarm bells were going off, and I ignored them.
Here's what happened. A man named Ben Carter (probably not his real name) but the name of someone who is a realtor at Stellar Realty in Arizona contacted me about writing an article, saying that LinkedIn recommended me. I should have checked his LinkedIn profile (clue #1—he doesn't have a LinkedIn account), but I didn't. He signed my contract for one article and said the check for 50% upfront was in the mail from his "accountant" in Florida.
Before receiving the check via registered mail, "Ben" contacted me saying there would be a Phase II and III of the project and that he was sending a check for all three phases. I immediately texted him. I didn't typically accept this far in payment and didn't feel easy about it, and that we only had a contract for one article and that I would need to create another agreement to cover Phases 2 and 3. He assured me it was fine and that he would work on the details for those phases. In the meantime, he suggested I cash the check. The check arrived a day or two later. It was sent by "Lynne Zampano" (his "accountant"). I later found out that she is also listed online as a realtor for Stellar Realty, but in Florida. The address she used is on the Multiple Listings Service, and she is not one of the homeowners.
I held onto the check for a few days because my gut was telling me something was odd. But again, I ignored it and deposited the check. My credit union informed me that it would take seven business days to fund. I passed that information onto "Ben," who would periodically check in to see how I was coming along with the article.
My next clue? Ben asked me to send him the portion for Phase III as they decided to hold off on that phase. I attempted to through PayPal, but my credit union rejected the check (Thank God).
I wrote "Ben," and he said he would reissue the check. I suggested he make the payment through PayPal. That's when the final clue set off all my alarms at once. He said that his "accountant" would need $1000 as security before sending payment. I looked it up on the internet, and sure enough, it's a PayPal scam to overpay for something and then ask for it back. I wrote "Ben" and told him that this sounded like a scam and that I wasn't sending any money. I didn't hear back from him.
I thought it was a done deal until a few days later when PayPal sent me an email saying they attempted to pay "Ben" with my credit card on file. I immediately sent them an email reporting the fraud. Then I contacted the credit card company, which is investigating the scam. I still don't know the outcome.
My lesson in all of this is to be on guard. If you don't know the person or they haven't been recommended by someone you do know, please vet them before working with them.
On a positive note, I have a great article on the Civil Rights Movement that's almost complete. If you know anyone who might be interested, please let me know. I welcome your comments. You can reach me at Robin Kellogg Associates, 818-631-6848, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.