(KTVI) - The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is advising consumers to research unfamiliar firms carefully before doing business with them after an apparently bogus St. Louis marketing company took money from a woman in Nevada.
The BBB warns that scammers routinely create sham companies to defraud unsuspecting victims, and offers a simple checklist to help consumers determine whether a company is real or fake. Key steps include checking a firm’s BBB Business Review, and finding out whether a company is located where it claims to be.
The Reno, Nev., woman lost more than $2,000 to Ballard Marketing Group, which claims to be a timeshare marketing company based in downtown St. Louis. The fifth floor suite given as an address for Ballard does not exist.
“Please, please, do not send any money to a business outside your area until you have thoroughly checked it out,” said Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO. “We see far too many cases where consumers are sucked in by smooth talking salespeople, attractive websites and official looking contracts. Too often, these operations turn out to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors, created for no other reason than to swindle you out of your money.”
In the Reno case, someone set up the Ballard Marketing Group, including the website www.ballardmarketinggroup.com with a fake office address in the Frisco Building in downtown St. Louis. The address of 906 Olive St., Suite 520, is prominent on the website.
A BBB investigator toured the building’s fifth floor with a security guard and determined that the company was not there. The guard said there is no record that Ballard Marketing Group ever had an office in the building.
The victim said she wired $2,146 to Mexico as part of an arrangement with Ballard Marketing Group to sell her timeshare. When she didn’t get the sales proceeds, she contacted the BBB. “This is all a scam to bilk elderly people out of their retirement money,” she said.
Calls made to phone numbers listed on the Ballard Marketing Group website were not returned.
The incident appears similar to recent cases in which consumers nationwide have lost money to thieves representing companies that do not exist. In many cases, the thieves used phony addresses to make their businesses seem more legitimate.
The BBB offers the following checklist to help determine whether a company is legitimate:
- Check out the business with the BBB by going to http://stlouis.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300. BBB Business Reviews include reports for known scam companies.
- Confirm that the business is actually at the address reported on its website or on emailed materials. By doing an Internet search of other businesses at the same address and calling them, you can usually learn whether the questionable business has offices there. You can also contact the building’s owner or manager. If it is a local office, you may want to visit the address.
- Ask for business references and contact them. Bogus companies rarely will be able to give you the name of a legitimate outside business contact who can vouch for them.
- Be wary of information on the company’s website or in emailed documents. Thieves are adept at fabricating phony websites, often copying them from legitimate sites or other fake sites.
- Be especially careful of Internet businesses like timeshare resale firms or loan companies that ask for upfront fees.
- Ask company representatives where the business is registered and then contact the corporation registration office in that state to verify the registration. (Often that is the secretary of state’s office). If the registration cannot be verified, it probably would be best to avoid the business.