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Monday, 18 April 2016

Small business scams - how not to get caught

It's April and you may have had fun earlier this month playing tricks or April Fool jokes on your nearest and dearest. But some tricks are no joke at all and you need to know how to avoid them.

Most hypnotherapists set up in business to help people, but we still have to remember that we are running a business. We publish our phone numbers, addresses and names so that customers can find us, but we can also be found by scammers and con artists, who may try to trick us out of our hard earned income.

Some scams are aimed particularly at therapists, some are aimed at businesses in general, so I've gathered together some of the most frequent that I've come across in my years of working for myself, and a few tips to avoid being caught.

The 'just think of all those stressed people' scam

I get these a lot and they do target therapists. You get a phone call from someone who claims to be looking for advertisers for a magazine. The magazine is supposedly given free of charge to all nurses / armed forces / emergency services / local council personnel. 'As you know,' they say, 'these people are really stressed and could do with your services. You'll get lots of clients from this.'  Some are genuine, of course, but on other occasions you pay for an ad and nothing is ever published: the magazine may not even exist.

Guarding against it:
  • Always ask for the personal name, business name and contact details of the person you are speaking to. Search their phone number online: it may be on sites like http://whocallsme.com/
  • If it's a magazine you've never heard of, ask for a copy, or at least visit their website. 
  • Don’t feel pressured by short deadlines. If it’s genuine they will happily take your ad for the next issue instead. 
  • Ask how many copies will be printed and when, and where they will be distributed. There is no point paying for even genuine ads if the people who see them live hundreds of miles away, they're unlikely to travel that far.
  • Ask them to put all these details, along with the price, in writing (post or email). Ask for a contract.
  • Read all the paperwork and don't pay anything till you have it.  
  • Do your research.
    Search online to see if they are genuine. (It's pretty easy to put together a website these days, so look at it carefully if you find one. On one site I visited the 'latest issue' page was months out of date: no real magazine would allow this.)
    Post on hypnotherapy groups you belong to and see if anyone else has heard of them, or got a result from advertising with them.
    Ask anyone you know who is a nurse / armed forces etc if they have ever seen or heard of the magazine, and more importantly if they've ever read it or looked at the ads.
     

The block booking scam

You are contacted by someone wanting to pre-pay for a block booking of sessions for themselves and/or a relative. In some versions of this scam, they are in your area (or even your country) for a limited time and want you to work to a very specific time schedule, to compensate for this they offer to pay over and above your usual rates. The emails often come through directory sites to make them look more legitimate.
They send you a cheque for the booking but it is 'accidentally' made out for more than the amount due. They ask you to bank it anyway and transfer back the overpaid money. The cheque is bogus, of course, and you have been conned out of the amount you sent in 'change'.

Guarding against it
  • Remember that if a booking looks too good to be true, it probably is
  • Never refund anyone any money until their cheque has cleared - and be aware that cheques can appear in your bank account for a few days before the bank tells you they have bounced
  • If the enquiry came through a directory or professional body listing, notify them of what's happened - they can't control who contacts you via their site but they can warn others to prevent the fraud from spreading
     

 The 'you've already authorised this' scam

A few years ago I spent three months in hospital. Shortly after coming out, I got a phone call which began 'I'm ringing to let you know your books are ready and I can take payment now over the phone'. According to the caller, I had agreed to sponsor some books about the dangers of recreational drugs to be circulated to all local schools. I knew I hadn't, asked for a date when we spoke and was given one when I was in hospital and unable to authorise anything. When I queried this, I was told, 'then someone else in your organisation authorised it'. I'm a sole trader.
Again there are variations on this theme, often involving charity calendars or sponsorships and on-line directories, but all try to kid you that you have already agreed to pay and owe them money.
 
Guarding against it:
  • Tell them you need to see a copy of the contract you signed, or some other proof that you agreed to the deal. Without this, do not pay.
  • Keep accurate and up to date records of any PR you do authorise, along with dates, amounts due and exactly who you dealt with.
  • In my personal experience most of these pests ring off as soon as you ask for proof, or say they will email it and never do.
  • If they persist, write and tell them you do not believe you owe the money and do not intend to pay until you see proof that you do.
  • If they threaten to take you to court, or to seize goods to cover your 'debt', don’t panic. They need proof to do either. Get legal advice if you are worried.
     

The click fraud scam

If you use Google ads you will know that you only pay for the ads when someone clicks on them and goes through to your site. You can choose a daily budget, and when that's used up, your ads stop showing till the next day. Click fraud can happen in a few different ways:
  • an automated system or a human one (usually low paid workers in poor areas abroad) clicks on your ads with no interest in what you have to sell, this can be used illicitly to make money for the clicker
  • an unscrupulous competitor clicks on your ads to waste your budget and stop your ad being shown to genuine potential customers
Either way you are paying for clicks that have no chance of leading to clients.
 
Guarding against it:
  • Check your ads regularly: have you suddenly had lots of clicks in China for example, or a sudden rise in clicks without a corresponding rise in enquiries?
  • Google have a click fraud team - after all, they have a vested interest in stopping as much of it as they can. Talk to them if you notice sudden changes in the pattern of clicks you’re getting.
  • Make use of your Google account manager, if you have one. They can teach you lots of tricks to maximise genuine clicks and minimise fraudulent or inappropriate ones. Or check out helpful information on you-tube or the Google help pages, or invest some time in a CPD course to give you the skills.
  • Consider getting click fraud protection software if you think you have a big problem with this.
     

What to do if you are the victim of a scam

If you feel you are the victim of fraud or scams, take action. Report what’s happened to whoever is most appropriate - your bank, Google, the Police, Department of Trade and Industry or Office of Fair Trading. Post on social media groups to warn other local businesses (be careful not to say anything that could be libellous, stick to facts). Sadly you may not get your money back but you can help to stop the scam spreading. But most of all be careful.
  • Get everything in writing
  • Remember - again and always - that if an opportunity seems to good to be true it probably is
  • Never give out your sensitive or secure data to people you don’t know
  • Warn other therapists if you can - via Facebook pages, Linked In groups, support/supervision groups etc, or by posting below
  • Get advice from a legal expert, since we can only advise you from our own experience

If you have enjoyed this article, please use the buttons on the grey bar (below the author details) to share it with others who might enjoy it too. Thank you.
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Author: is Senior Tutor At Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training, which offers multi accredited hypnotherapy practitioner training in Wakefield and York, along with taster days and foundation levels. Debbie has written a chapter on working with IBS in The Hypnotherapy Handbook, aimed at students and newly qualified hypnotherapists and also offers supervision and continuous professional development (CPD) for those in practice. Please contact Debbie to find out more.

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