The Federal Trade Commission recently got an injunction stopping the operation of a scam based in Montreal, Canada, but aimed at American businesses and churches involving phony online business directory listings. At the time that the FTC acted, the scammers, Mohamad Khaled Kaddoura, Derek Cessford and Aaron Kirby as well as the fifteen companies under which they operated had stolen more than fourteen million dollars from unsuspecting victims. The scam would start with a phone call in which the scammers said that they were verifying contact information to update or confirm existing directory listings. Other times they said that they were calling to verify information for cancellation of a listing. In every instance, these were total misrepresentations because the businesses and churches called had no previous relationship with the callers. The calls were then followed up with bills averaging about $500. When the victims complained, the scammers played back portions of the initial telephone calls that made it sound like they actually did purchase the listing services. If the victims still refused to pay, the then received calls purporting to be from collection agencies threatening legal action.
Never provide information to anyone over the phone or in response to an email or text message unless you are absolutely sure that the person contacting you is legitimate and they have a legitimate need for the information you are providing. In this case, people receiving the original call should have refused to provide any information until they had verified that their company or church actually had an account with the caller, which, of course they did not. Had they taken this simple step rather than provide information to someone they did not know, they could have avoided much trouble. This is a valuable lesson for all of us. Scammers will often sound legitimate, but being aware of that, you should always decline to provide information to anyone who contacts you until you have absolutely verified that the call is legitimate and the need for the information is legitimate.