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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

Scams that Target Small Businesses

Okay, I'm off on another scam diatribe, but the article mostly targets scams the average person doesn't usually see. I WILL point out that any mailings you get from 2020 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC are likely to be scams - that is apparently a mailbox service that a lot of scammers use to make it look like they're located in DC, when they're not.

Back on task, now: owning a home business, even one that barely covers its own expenses most years gives you insight into some scams that nobody else ever sees. Here are two relatively low-profile examples and one that takes the cake for hutzpa.

Fake Maintenance Agreements - Toward the end of every year, companies I never heard of send me "snail-mail" warnings that my maintenance contracts on my computers or printers are expiring, and they'll give me a discount if I renew now. For all I know they may actually fix office equipment - that part might be true. The "scam" part is that their mailings imply that I've used them in the past, which is blatantly false.

Domain Registration Scams - For a long time, every time my primary domain name would come up for re-registration, I would get snail-mails offering to re-register me for $40 or so, threatening that I could lose my own domain name if I didn't send them money right away. In this case, the domain registrars sending the scary warnings really would have registered my domain. The scam part is implying that I could only protect my domain by registering with them for $40 instead of the companies I'm already using who charge $10-15 a pop.

And the Winner Is

A plaque manufacturing company that sends phony business award notices to flatter you into buying their plaques. In case you wonder how legitimate they are, their mailing address address is the same address as a dozen other "companies" that offer similar services, such as printing "Who's Who" books of high school students that you can buy if you want to see your name in print (as opposed to the telephone book, where you can see it in print for free). Several shadier "services" seem to reside at the same address, too, including "companies" that send mailers to senior citizens offering them financial help if they'll put their personal information into a form and send it back in. (Google "2020 Pennsylvania Ave.", if you want to see what I mean).

The US Commerce Association (USCA) seems to reside in a rented post office box. The first I ever heard of them was early this year when they e-mailed me to tell me I had won a prestigious award. I just used the delete button, which I do with 99% of the spam I get, and didn't think anything of it. Then they e-mailed me back again twice.

Phony Award Notification - Here's the "final warning" they just sent me:

    Earlier this year, I sent a notification email to you recognizing that Breakthrough Communication had been selected for the 2009 Best of Springfield Award in the Author category.

    In recognition of your achievement, a 2009 Best of Springfield Award has been designed for display at your place of business. You may arrange to have your award sent directly to Breakthrough Communication by following the simple steps on the 2009 Best of Springfield Award order form. Simply copy and paste this link into your browser to receive your award:[details deleted from link]

    Each year, the US Commerce Association (USCA) identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and community.

    Also, a copy of the press release publicizing the selection of Breakthrough Communication has been posted on our website . The USCA hereby grants Breakthrough Communication a non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use, reproduce, distribute, and display this press release in any media formats and through any media channels.

    An Award Code has been assigned to your company that can be used on our website for quick access to your award information and press release.

    Your Award Code is: [detail deleted]


    Ashley Carter

    Selection Committee Chair

    US Commerce Association

    The intended recipient of this notification is the Marketing Director for Breakthrough Communication. If you have received this email in error please forward it to the intended recipient. If you do not wish to receive further advertisements from Best of Springfield Award Program, please mail a written request to: USCA, 2020 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, DC 20006 or simply click to opt-out.

You'll notice, of course, that they don't address me by name. What you may not notice is that they spell the name of my company (Breakthrough Communications) wrong five times. In ancilliary materials, they also show a thorough ignorance of what Breakthrough Communications "does."

Phony Press Release - For the fun of it I have included the "press release" they also dummied up for me. It's available here. My favorite part is the paragraph that says:

    U.S. Commerce Association (USCA) is a Washington D.C. based organization funded by local businesses operating in towns, large and small, across America.

Technically that's true - as far as I can tell this mailbox-based company is supported entirely by plaques sold to suckers like they expected me to be, that is "local businesses operating in towns . . . across America."

The best part of this is that the award photo I used for the title page was actually copied from a version on their web site that had "Breakthrough Communication" [sic] right where I substituted the "your name here" line. GORSH, I'm so flattered.


These petty cons haven't yet put anyone out of business as far as I know, but they are examples of the ways con artists attempt to get in "under the radar" by pretending you have already done business with them or that they are part of a respected national organization. Unlike the scams that the phone company assists by accepting charges from known scammers against your account, these scams have no way to get money out of our pocket unless you're dumb enough to send it or or give them your charge card information. Still, it's worth pointing out that there are scammers everywyhere looking to trick the unwary. . . .

Looking forward to your suggestions, additions, criticisms, and anything else to let me know you're paying attention, I remain,

Paul Race

Click to see some ways you can help us grow the hobby.P.S. Enjoy your trains. Especially enjoy any time you have with your family in the coming weeks.

Reader Response

Alert reader Bob M. writes:

This is just a quick note to tell you how much I enjoyed your blog-like content on spam and scams. I found you on a Google search for the US Commerce Association award ripoff, and stuck around to read about the Holmes Identity. It was worth quite a few chuckles.

A local attorney here in [location withheld] prominently advertises his "law firm of the year" awards from the [company name withheld] which is similar to the USCA... though they do purchase a small, ugly advertisement in the local news & entertainment agency once a year.

Thanks for the entertainment . . .

Thanks for stopping by, Bob.

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