BEWARE – It’s a SCAM!

 

For some years now, tourism operators have been a favourite target for scammers with a significant number of businesses in Australia, including accommodation and tourism operators, receiving unsolicited bills for advertising they never ordered. This is known as “false billing” and its aim is to trick businesses into paying money.

According to Scamwatch, directory or unauthorised advertising scams are common. The purpose of these scams is to bill unsuspecting recipients for the provision of a listing or advertisement by using creative and deceiving methods.

More recently, it appears that many ATDW members have been hit with various ‘directory listing’ requests. These requests usually come in the form of an email inviting you to check, verify, renew or “claim your listing”. For many business owners this is the first time they are learning about their listings on those websites.

The scam company creates the impression that the tourism businesses already have a listing with this company as the emails are commonly titled ‘Listing Advice Notice’ and ‘Renewal Notice’. It also creates the overall impression that you are simply ‘verifying’ or ‘updating’ your contact details cost-free.

However, upon signing and returning the form, unsuspecting victims then receive an invoice demanding payment for the provision of the advertising service. By signing the form, the company claims, via the fine print, that the recipient is agreeing to enter into a contract and to pay a specified fee for the provision of this advertising service.

To confuse matters more, there are many instances where these companies have names, logos and letterheads very similar to Tourism Industry Associations or your State Tourism Organisation (STO), resulting in confusion and many operators assuming that it is a legitimate invoice from their STO to update their ATDW listing, which they then pay in error.

These scammers appear legitimate and often trade under several different identities, but it appears that their primary focus is to confuse the market into believing that they are dealing with the official STO.  Often, these directory websites provide merely an image and brief description (usually copied from the operators own website) and make no attempt to take bookings. In essence offering a worthless listing for your business.

This is a timely reminder for all businesses to carefully look at who is issuing the invoices and not to blindly pay any advertising bills you receive. It is important for all businesses to maintain a careful record of advertising arrangements in place and to check all incoming renewal invoices with your records to verify the authenticity and authorisation of those bills.

How to avoid Scammers?

  • Scammers usually want a signature on a piece of paper. Do not be rushed into signing anything, always read the entire document, especially any fine print, before signing.
  • Train your staff to recognise problems and potential scams. It is often inexperienced staff that scammers target.
  • Check with your local STO, RTO or the ATDW if you are unsure
  • Check sites such as ‘Scamwatch’: http://www.scamwatch.gov.au and ‘Moneysmart’: https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/scams/avoiding-scams which provide information on scams.

What should I do if I think I have been scammed?

  • Report it to the Fair Trading Authority in your state or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). Consumer protection agencies can put together a case where there is sufficient evidence and occasionally get a significant legal victory against a scammer.
  • Put a stop on any payments from your bank account or credit card
  • Let others know about it, including your staff

The Australian Consumer Law can protect you from certain types of unscrupulous dealings, but once you have paid up, it can be very difficult to get your money back. A full legal challenge can cost a lot of money – usually much more then you have paid out, so may not be cost effective.

For more information refer to the false billing scams information page on the ScamWatch website which has been set-up by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission.