Have you ever been taken advantage of by a business, and wanted to get your due justice? In most cases we may encounter generally bad service or unacceptable products from small businesses. But, in the worst cases, we actually get victimized by our friendly, local scam artists. It’s not just a matter of unsatisfactory service, but they willfully intended to dupe or cheat your or treat you badly!
With merely a bad service or product, we might push for a discount or refund, and write some negative reviews about a company at various ratings sites like Yelp. But, when it’s an actual scam artist, it becomes a question of how to reach them in the first place, and then how to do anything that they’d even feel.
In the local search marketing world, many of us have noticed a spate of bad actors who are setting up fraudulent business listings (perhaps even operating under bogus names), and once they’ve lured people into doing business with them, they abscond with fees in return for shoddy service or no service/product whatsoever. So, there are some basic issues around how they are operating with impunity, promoting themselves online (sometimes out-ranking bona fide established local businesses), and then taking consumers’ money with zero accountability.
So, here are some tips we’ve made to help you REACH LOCAL SCAM ARTISTS and even thwack ’em! You may not be able to get your lost time and money back, but you may get a little justice or you might be able to declaw these bad guys just a bit so they can’t prey on other consumers as easily.
Tips To Reach Local Scam Artists & Thwack ‘Em:
- Get them de-listed! Is it a bogus local listing in a directory or search engine? In other words, if you drove up to the street address they’re listed under, is there an actual company office there where you can talk to an employee of the business? Bogus listings have been a dire problem where some services like locksmiths are concerned. If there’s no business representative at the place where their online address is listed in Google Maps, Bing Maps, Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, etc — then, that is a bogus listing. For these cases, contact the search engine or directory site and inform them that it’s a bogus listing.
- Narc on ’em! If someone is dishonest in one thing, chances are they may be doing other bad stuff, too! Look critically at their website — are they using someone else’s copyrighted text or images? If so, inform the people they’ve lifted content from, and this could get their sites delisted from search engines like Google if it’s reported properly . The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or “DMCA” law ) allows owners of copyrighted material to demand that sites take down content which has been taken from them.
- Reveal who they are! In times past, all sorts of conmen would set up websites pretending to be someone they weren’t. But, people can’t always hide behind a webpage any more — you should familiarize yourself with looking up domain name registration information. The URL domain name of the website of a scam company might, just might, let you discover the name of the person who set up the business. You can look the URL domain name owner information up at many different “WHOIS” services out there, although I prefer the Domain Dossier  provided at Hexillion’s Central Ops. Go there, type the domain name (“example.com”) of the bad company into the search box, then hit return. Under the Domain Whois record, see who it is that is listed under the Registrant information. In some cases, the bad guys will have obscured the info by using some front company to hide who they are. Even so, you can see who is providing the domain registration service for them, and you could use that info to contact them through an attorney’s note and demand that they tell you who is behind a site so that you know who you’re dealing with.
- Complain to their website host! The Domain Dossier also reveals where the website is being hosted. Using this, you can figure out who their ISP (“Internet Service Provider”) is, and you can call them up and complain that the website is fraudulent/criminal. Some ISPs may then determine that the scam company has broken their terms and conditions, and this might result in them pulling the plug on the scam website.
- Check out the IP address of their website’s domain, too! Websites are often co-hosted on a server along with many other websites, so if you search to find out what other domain names may be associated with the same IP address, you might discover other sites and other businesses that the scam artist may be using as a front. Tread carefully with this, though, because they could just be using cheap hosting, and other domains on the same IP address may be completely unrelated to your bad guy.
- Reverse search on the web and in local search engines by the company’s phone number. This may further reveal other businesses that the bad actor is using to take advantage of people.
- Discover the business owner through the local tax office. In many localities, con men obscure their identities through using “doing business as” or “DBA” names, and these may be required to be registered with local tax offices in order for bank accounts to be set up. Contact local tax offices to see what they have filed on business names in order to help you reveal the persons responsible.
- Thwack ’em with negative reviews! Be sure to rate them negatively in Google Maps, online yellow pages, Yelp, and at the Better Business Bureau . When searching for their type of business or by their business name, carefully look at what pages and sites are ranking. Any page which lists this business might be an opportunity for you to go in and disclose how they treated you and what your experience with them was. In one widely-reported, egregious case, a reprehensible online merchant received numerous bad reviews online, resulting in coverage in an article on the New York Times, and ultimately the owner was arrested and will likely face criminal charges .
- Blog about ’em! If you already have a blog, write a post with the title begining with the bad business’s name and describe your interactions with them. Honest description of what they did to you could really hurt their bottom line! There are many cases out there of how individual bloggers have taken even major corporations to task, resulting in serious impacts to a company’s business.
- Report them to the authorities! If what they did to you was illegal , report the company to your local district attorney’s office, and to the state attorney general. Ask your local police for suggestions, and report the company wherever they may be operating.
- Take away their phones! In some cases we know of, locals complained to the phone company about a local scam artist that set up multiple, bogus online listings for their business, and the consumer complaints resulted in the bad guys losing their phone numbers. The phone company might be a good resource for getting info on the real names of owners behind the scam company, too.
- Take ’em to small claims court! Assuming your total dollar amount isn’t too big, file suit against them in small claims court. You might not be able to get them to show up, or even pay, but it can be useful to you if you go through the process to get a judgement against them. You’ll need to’ve found a way to indentify the true company or individual’s name behind the scam company already, though.
- Form a mob! Know others targeted by the same scam artists? Get them to join you in reporting the offenses. There’s not only safety in numbers, but believability and priority. If enough people report the same company, it becomes progressively harder for the complaints to be ignored or neglected.
Using these tips should help you to actually reach the local scam artists, and thwack ’em where it hurts!
If you have additional ideas for thwacking the bad guys, please add them below in the comments.