the pizza chef: Spotting a scam
By Diana CoutuFeatures Business and Operations Marketing
As if pizzeria owners don’t have enough to do every day, we must always be on high alert for scams.
As if pizzeria owners don’t have enough to do every day, we must always be on high alert for scams. I’m not talking about people who call and say they ordered a pizza and it had the wrong toppings on it when they didn’t actually place an order. I’m talking about unscrupulous companies that prey on small businesses like ours.
While we’d like to believe that when the phone rings it means that someone is placing an order, that’s not always the case. Calls during daytime hours are often someone attempting to sell us something. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as a call during lunch hours asking to speak to the owner. When someone calls and asks to speak to the owner, we immediately think it’s a complaint, but most of the time it’s a salesperson.
My husband and I have a rule: if you’re a salesperson calling or coming in during our busy hours and expecting to sell us something, you’ve started off the relationship on a bad foot. Nothing speaks more to the fact that you haven’t done research about our industry than showing up during our busy hours and expecting to steal our time. Want to book a meeting with me? Come back on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. You don’t work on weekends, you say? Too bad.
The worst types of phone calls are from companies that have absolutely no value. Their entire day is spent trying to scam small business owners. Typically this is how one of the scams goes. A salesperson calls and asks to speak to a manager. When they get the manager they ask for the person’s name. Beware – this company is recording your call. The company asks the manager to confirm the mailing address and the name of the business. Two to three weeks later a box of old, unusable debit/credit machine paper arrives with an invoice for $300-$400, which is 10 times the going rate for paper for your debit/credit card machine. You call the company and tell them that you didn’t place an order with them and you want to return the paper. They tell you that they have a recording of your manager placing the order and that you cannot return it.
You decide that you simply aren’t going to pay the invoice, and so you shouldn’t. But this unscrupulous company then sells the debt to a collection agency, which gives them cents on the dollar for the outstanding invoice. Then the debt collection company harasses you every day to pay the balance. This is when a lot of business owners give in. They pay the bogus debt and swear to never allow someone to take advantage of them again. But your company is now on a list of customers for the unscrupulous company and they’ll keep calling you again and again.
Currently there is a federal case against one company perpetrating these scams. If you’ve been a victim of this company, refuse to pay the invoice and the fraudulent debt. This company sent us a box of unwanted paper and we insisted on hearing the recording of the order being placed. They played a recording of our manager stating his name and our business address, but not placing any order. Under current Canadian law, if a company sends you something you didn’t order, you must inform them by fax or mail that you do not want the item and they must make arrangements to pick it up. If they don’t pick it up within 30 days, it’s considered a gift.
There are other companies that pull similar scams. Instead of sending you a box of POS paper, they tell you that you or your manager agreed to be listed in their online directory. One of these scammers falsely told my husband that we were listed with them the previous year and could have the same rate of only $395 this year.
When my husband informed them that we did not agree to any such listing, past or present, the caller hung up.
Other scams offer listings in specialized directories for everyone from lawyers and doctors to architects and accountants. I always ask the salesperson if they think that these professionals don’t know how to use Google. I called my attorney and my accountant to see if they use these directories and neither one had ever heard of them.
We’ve also found that when the school year begins there is an increase in the number of guides for children. In my opinion, some of these are ridiculous. One salesperson began his pitch with stats about kids using drugs and needing to be informed about the different types. He offered a business card listing in the back of an “informative guide on drugs for kids” for $800. We asked questions about the number of guides that would be printed and how they would be distributed. The answers were vague and ambiguous. When we declined the offer, the salesperson said, “I can’t believe you don’t support keeping kids off of drugs!”
How can you protect yourself from these and other scams? Never agree to anything when a salesperson shows up uninvited. Request more information be sent to you by mail, by fax or in person ahead of a pre-scheduled meeting time. Always ask questions. If the answers are vague and ambiguous, decline to participate.
Diana Coutu is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine chef of the year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, co-owner of Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg, Man., and a member of the board of directors for the CRFA. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis. For more information, contact her at Diana@dianasgourmetpizzeria.ca.
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