Small businesses are susceptible to scams because scammers assume that owners don’t know any better. Entrepreneurs just starting out may, in fact, not be aware of the scams that are frequently targeted at small businesses.
To protect yourself and your business, here are some of the top scams that you should look out for and avoid whether you’re a new or seasoned small business owner.
The Sham Award
According to Open Forum, one of the biggest scams that occurs to small businesses involves a fake award. The scammer will reach out to a small business and express that they’ve won an award for their work. The catch is that the scammer will ask for a partial or full payment for the award and then charge a credit card yearly “membership fees.”
If someone calls your business and requests payment for any type of award, beware. Google the name of the organization and you’ll most likely find complaints from other small business owners.
The “Yellow Pages”
Scammers will call up small businesses and ask for someone to confirm the business’ address, phone number, e-mail, website and other contact information. They will say they are from an online directory like The Yellow Pages, and then some time later, a bill will come in the mail for the listing. Though the owner never agreed to the charges, the scammer cuts together the audio to make it sound as if there was confirmation.
If someone calls your business and asks you to confirm any type of information, don’t. Hang up on them immediately and report the scam to the BBB with the phone number that the scammers called from.
When scammers pretend to purchase products from small businesses, they will send a bogus check for more money than required. That way, they will receive a check for the difference and get to keep this money and the products.
Never accept a bigger check than necessary from a client—return it right away and then ask for a new check for the right amount of money. If a client is rushing you to cash it, it’s probably going to bounce.
Scammers will say they are representatives from a financial institution and offer to invest in small businesses. The first step, though, is for a small business to “qualify.” This takes a substantial amount of paperwork as well as fees and in the end, there are no investments made.
Stick to your own investors and banks. No one is going to come to you and make you pay for applications if they’re really interested in investing in your business.
Bitcoins and other digital currency websites are under scrutiny from The North American Securities Administrators Association because they are feeding grounds for scam artists. They are threats to investors and can prove to be detrimental to a business’ funding.
Stick to investors who have real sources for funds and not Bitcoins or other digital currencies. You never know who is lurking and looking to take advantage of you on those websites.
Last month, at 71 years of age, Lou Reed died from complications of liver disease. But that was not the end nor how his fans will remember him. A few weeks later in Lincoln Center, several hundred fans gathered together to celebrate his life and music. The New Yorker article said that Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, was there too.
“It was a cold, brilliantly sunny day. There were no speeches, no visuals—just people, trees, and tall poles with powerful speakers mounted on top. Beige chairs were set up in diagonal rows, and people of all ages, in black overcoats, leather jackets, sunglasses, knitted hats, and berets, sat in the chairs or along the wall or stood, leaning against trees, nodding their heads, looking at one another, gazing up at the leaves. Many took pictures or video. The bright sunlight was dappled under the flaking branches, extremes of light and shadow adding to the unreal, happy strangeness.”
According the New York Post, Reed left Anderson, their home in the Hamptons, a Manhattan apartment, all his personal property, his touring company Sister Ray Enterprises, plus 75 percent of his estate. The remaining 25 percent of his estate was left to his only sibling, Margaret Reed Weiner. Weiner was also given a $500,000.00 bequest to care for their 93-year-old mother.
In Reed’s will, he wrote, “It is my hope and desire, without imposing any legal obligation, that my said sister will use a portion of this cash bequest to help care for our mother, Toby Reed, for the balance of her life,”
Love for Reed from his family and fans will no doubt last long into the future. A biography about him is in the works, according to a Billboard article. Music writer Anthony DeCurtis is slated to write the book, though there isn’t a known release date or title yet.
Hear a panel of experts discuss the various ways small businesses can get their legal house in order as the year comes to a close.
Crowdfunding is a way for just about anyone or any small organization to raise money. Many individuals make sometimes micro-donations in amounts as low as five dollars. But if you can get enough people along with a few larger donations, a young business can get itself up and running. You may have even read a post here recently about how crowdfunding is being used by some craft breweries.
Back in October, a Brooklyn bakery and cocktail bar called Butter & Scotch, started a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise $50,000.00, so they could sign a lease and build their dream space. They surpassed their goal in the time allowed with the help of 528 backers.
Backers receive different incentives like thank-you shout outs on social media, tote bags, aprons, or a menu item named after them. As the pledges increase, the rewards get sweeter. Pledges of $2,500.00 gave backers a private party for 20 friends including custom beverages and desserts.
Because crowdfunding is so popular, there are organizations interested in gathering together many small investors and giving them shares of their companies instead of customized incentives. However, the laws are strict about buying and selling stock in private companies.
On October 23, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission released proposed rules on crowfunding. An article on Crowdfund Insider seems a bit wary of the proposed rules.
“It looks like the SEC has purposely tried to make equity crowdfunding expensive. They were tasked with taking a simple nine page law that passed Congress with overwhelming bilateral support and creating rules that would give the average small businessman a way to fill the void left by banks unwilling to lend them money. Instead, the SEC has created a quagmire of complicated rules and economic roadblocks. If a small business needs to raise $100,000, are they going to spend $15,000 in background checks, compliance costs and legal fees to give equity crowdfunding a try, knowing that if they do not reach their goal, they do not get the money raised, and are out the up front costs?”
Currently the SEC is taking comments on the proposed rules. The deadline for comments is February 3, 2014.
How do I make sure that I own my business name, slogan, logo and website legally so no one else can claim it???
There are different types of protection based on different types of use. You can copyright designs that you use for a logo, website, stationary, etc. by filing for protection with the U.S. Copyright Office. LegalZoom can help you do that right the first time (people can do this themselves but I recommend getting help if it’s your first time as corrections can be costly).
With respect to your business name, you’re going to want to register for a trade or service mark for that with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. With a trademark, help is vital. You won’t be able to do this easily on your own and you could spend a year trying to get it right.
However, you can only get federal trademark protection for something you are using in interstate commerce. You can file an “intent to use” application but it will only last 6 months.
If it’s a local thing (like a restaurant), you will receive a certain amount of protection from unfair or anti-competitive business practices on the state level, without registering.
Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.
Is using LegalZoom to make a will perfectly legal in my state (Oregon)? My father-in-law is a (will and trust) attorney in Illinois, and when I asked him, he said, “See an attorney in Oregon.” We had a will done in Washington ($600) and don’t want to spend another $600 for the same (simple) thing in Oregon. Can you please give me the skinny on this?
I can make $600 or more making a will for people, but I never do. I always say, just go to LegalZoom, and if you have any questions, call me when you are on the site. No one ever calls me, they just thank me.
It’s understandable why many lawyers don’t like this scenario, but I’m a lawyer, and I do. It’s good for everyone.
Check out the Sammy Davis Jr. Estate ruling for more info on the validity of LegalZoom wills.
If it’s good enough for the Rat Pack…
Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.
What are the criteria for deciding on which country to manufacture a product in (U.S. vs. China/India)?
Gary Milkwick from Corporate Tax Network:
There is a lot to consider: cost of production, time, import/export expenses, ease of communication, reliability, etc. This is a very broad topic, with a lot of moving parts. If you already have offers lined up from different countries/manufacturers, and don’t know which one to choose, you may need to consider sitting down with a qualified CPA and an attorney to go through the pros and cons of each one from both the accounting and legal perspectives.
Gary Milkwick from Corporate Tax Network answers your tax questions for free on our Facebook page every Thursday at 11 a.m. PT.
With just about everyone seeming to be on Facebook these days, it’s hard not to see what your friends have “liked.” Reading most articles online give you the opportunity to give a thumbs up. Clicking the “like” button may seem like a relatively personal action at the time, but in reality we should know that our Facebook friends and others can see this information as well. Sometimes the consequences of that “like” go far beyond what we could imagine.
Daniel Ray Carter Jr. of Virginia learned the hard way. He “liked” the page for a candidate running against his boss. His problems started in the summer of 2009, according to a Washington Post article.
“[L]ongtime Hampton Sheriff B.J. Roberts was running for reelection, according to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Newport News in March 2011. Roberts learned that some of his employees, including Carter, were actively supporting another high-ranking Sheriff’s Office official, Jim Adams, in the election.
Carter liked Adams’s campaign page on Facebook, according to court records. When Roberts learned of the campaigning on the site, he became “incensed” and called a meeting of employees, according to the lawsuit. He allegedly told them that he would be sheriff for “as long as I want it.”
After the meeting, the lawsuit says, Roberts approached Carter and told him: “You made your bed, now you’re going to lie in it — after the election you’re gone.”
Sheriff Roberts won the election and Carter was fired. Carter sued claiming that his First Amendment rights were violated and his case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Facebook and the ACLU filed briefs supporting him.
A follow-up article this past September showed the Court ruling that indeed “liking” something on Facebook is a form of protected speech. Virginia’s ACLU legal director said, “The court properly recognized that in an era when so much of our communication takes place through social media liking a political Facebook page is an important means of political expression that deserves First Amendment expression.”
Nobody needs a little birdie to tell them that Twitter went public recently. According to PrivCo, Twitter’s initial public offering created 1,600 new millionaires. All that new money is also a financial boon for the state of California to the tune of approximately $479 million in taxes. The IRS may get close to two billion dollars as well.
The IPO on November 7, 2013, was a festive day for the company. The offices in San Francisco opened early and Twitter employees watched the events unfold on TV while enjoying tasty treats. Company chef, Lance Holton, (aka @birdfeeder) made cronuts, which are a much sought after combination of a croissant and a donut.
Twitter executives are a shrewd bunch, so it’s definitely not been all cute birds and pastry. According to a Wall Street Journal article, based on information gathered from IPO documents, estate plans were put into place to help preserve their assets. Grantor-retained annuity trusts, gift trusts and single-member limited liability companies (LLCs) were some of the mechanisms said to be used.
According to estate-planning expert Andrew Katzenstein,”The trick is to transfer assets when they aren’t worth a lot, so that when they are, you don’t have to pay a tax of 40% or more for the privilege of leaving it to heirs.”
The article further goes on to say that based on the name of a trust, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams might be part of Red Sox Nation. Apparently 564,000 of his Twitter shares are in the Green Monster Trust. Also more than 44 million shares are said to be held in a single-member LLC called Obvious LLC. John Ramsbacher, a California lawyer specializing in pre-IPO planning, explains the benefits of the LLC.
“[I]f Mr. Williams simply gave $1 million worth of Twitter shares to his children, the transfer could incur gift taxes of $400,000. But if the shares are in his LLC and he gives them an interest in that, the gift might be worth only $650,000, with taxes of $260,000. That is because the LLC shares aren’t easily traded and the recipient doesn’t control the LLC.”
“[T]he Green Monster Trust could use a promissory note to buy discounted interests in the LLC. That would put even more Twitter stock into the trust at less than market value, further minimizing gift taxes. In some cases, the only cash payment required for years is the annual interest on the note.”
You might think it’s a good thing to come to the aid of someone in trouble. Especially if we are the ones in need of help. But it’s not that simple. Stepping into harm’s way to aid someone while you are at work could get you fired. That’s what happened to Kristopher Oswald, who was a temporary worker for Walmart in Hartland, Michigan.
It was reported by the Christian Science Monitor that while Oswald was taking a break outside, he saw a woman being grabbed by a man. He came to her defense and was punched several times by the man who grabbed her and by two other men as well. Oswald’s temporary assignment was terminated based on Walmart’s stating the he violated the company’s safety policy.
As surprising as the result seems, this may not be a unique situation.
“The incident underscores that gray areas exist in corporate policies. Most policies, specifically for ethical conduct, cover workplace violence and are intended to curb uncivil behavior such as shouting, shoving, and physical attacks on co-workers or customers, says Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. But good Samaritan acts like the one in Michigan would typically not be covered under such a policy, he says.”
The story went viral and social media outrage ensued. Walmart reviewed its initial decision and ended up offering Oswald his job back. USA Today later reported that Oswald declined Walmart’s offer and fears retaliation.
“They could not guarantee that nothing would happen from management if I did take my job,” he said. “It’s a day-to-day struggle. I feel like if I say the wrong thing, I’m going to have a company coming after me.”