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BBB Business Scam Alert

Entrepreneurs beware of fake marketing services for small businesses

Small business owners are passionate, dedicated individuals who have accumulated years of
expertise in an industry. Through time and experience, they often have found ways to
improve processes and use that knowledge to the benefit of their customers and clients.
However, one aspect of business ownership they may not be as familiar with is marketing.
Many small business owners turn to marketing agencies and firms to handle their online
presence or advertisement needs. Unfortunately, the demand for these services opens the
opportunity for scammers to take advantage of small business owners. BBB Scam Tracker
receives multiple reports across the nation of phony businesses tricking small business
owners into signing monthly contracts for services that are never rendered.

How the Scam Works
A small business owner seeking a low-cost marketing service discovers a company that
offers exactly what they are looking for. The company may claim to offer public relations,
search engine optimization or other general marketing support for a low monthly fee, often
promising amazing results.

Once a small business owner signs up and submits payment, the company becomes difficult
to communicate with. They may constantly postpone or delay promised marketing
materials, such as social media posts, graphics or logos. In many cases, getting in touch
with the company once payment has been processed becomes nearly impossible and
attempts to cancel the service go unanswered, requiring the business owner to cancel the
card associated with the account.

How to Spot Fake Services
Research companies thoroughly before hiring. Spend the time to research and get to
know the company well before contacting them. Make sure their website is professional and
their social media accounts are real. Search for customer complaints and reviews about
their services on Legitimate marketing companies take pride in their digital
presence because it is often the most-requested service of their clients and provides an
opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities. Use this chance to evaluate how the company
positions or advertises itself and whether it would be a good fit for your business needs.
Check the contact information. If the company possesses both a social media presence
and a professional website, be sure to check for their contact information. If the company
has no telephone number or physical address, that is a sign it may not be legitimate. If a
telephone number is listed, call it to make sure it is in service and verify the physical
address is associated with the company name by searching online. Scammers will often use
the addresses for vacant properties for their own purposes.

Reach out to references. Reach out to the references provided by a company to verify
they have not been fabricated. Make certain it is possible to contact the people on the list
and research their names online to make sure they are real people with legitimate small
businesses. Keep in mind that online testimonials posted on websites or on some review
platforms can be fabricated. Learn more about BBB’s review vetting process on

Understand what you are paying for. A reputable company will be able to clearly
describe their services and the expected timeline to receive marketing materials before a
potential customer pays for those services. Spend the time to understand the services, their
scope, how they will be delivered (email, mail, social media posting, etc.) and when they
will be provided. If any of these elements are unclear or if details about payments are
vague, look elsewhere for services.

Use protected payment methods. Be cautious of any company that insists on payment
for services by wire transfers, gift cards or pre-paid debit cards. If someone demands
payment in one of these ways, it is probably a scam. Even if using a trusted company, BBB
recommends always paying with a credit card for the additional protections it provides in
case problems arise and you would like to dispute charges.
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