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Don’t get scammed

Dear Mary, Last year, my business paid to advertise in a sustainability magazine. I gave a credit card deposit for advertising design and placement within the publication. Unfortunately, we didn’t read the contract fully or ask enough questions before signing it. The magazine never came out and our ads never ran — but our credit card was charged over a thousand dollars. How do I know if I’m being scammed and how can I protect myself from future scams?

People often talk about identity theft and the importance of protecting yourself, but many businesses forget to protect themselves from scams. Your situation last year illustrates how important it is to investigate offers and review contracts carefully. You’re not alone—at least seven businesses in Napa reported that magazine scam to the district attorney’s office.

Business scams come in many forms. Some involve bills for advertising or directory listings that were never ordered, suspicious office supply offers, and even false demands from imaginary government agencies.

Here are some common scams to watch for:

• Advertising scams: Small businesses are often deceived into paying for an advertisement or directory listing that does not exist. A scammer might call your business to confirm an advertisement they claim you ordered. They may even quote a genuine ad you placed in a different publication to convince you. When you refuse to pay, they threaten legal action.

• Check overpayment scams: You’re selling something on the Internet, through eBay, Craigslist, etc., and the scammer sends you a check for more than the price. They’ll say there was a mistake and they’ll ask you to refund the excess amount by wire transfer. You wire them the difference and when you go to cash their check (surprise, surprise) it bounces.

• Office supply scams: You get a bill for office supplies you never ordered, never received, or for items that were not what you thought you bought. Often, this scam comes in the form of a phone call from someone claiming to be your regular supplier. Watch for offers of a free gift, which arrives with other goods that were not ordered, for which you will be charged.

• Fax back scams: You receive an unsolicited fax offering a great deal — all you have to do is fax back to a $5/minute telephone number. They’ll make sure your fax goes through — slowly.

• Government scams: When I file articles of organization for an LLC, I receive a very official-looking document from the “Office of the Compliance Recorder” (fake) telling me that if I don’t send them a check for $150 and fill out the “Annual Minutes Disclosure Statement” (also fake), my company will lose limited liability protection (fake). And if I pay $200, they’ll give me immediate processing!

Don’t be a victim. Never give financial details to anyone you don’t trust. Implement clear policies about who is authorized to pay bills or place orders. Most importantly, do not sign anything until you read and understand all of the terms.

If you believe you’ve been scammed, you can fill out a complaint form with the Napa district attorney’s office at, or contact their Consumer Affairs Hotline: 253-4059.

Mary Hudson is a business law attorney with Hudson & Luros, LLP, in Napa, and can be reached at or 418-5118. The information provided here is not intended as legal advice, nor does it form an attorney-client relationship with the author. The author makes no representations as to the reliability or accuracy of the above information. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need disclaimers — or attorneys.

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