By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
The telephone answering service industry is a wonderful and close-knit community. Tales abound of one service going the extra mile to help another – even direct competitors providing aid in times of crisis. With that as the general tenor of the industry, it is surprising and hurtful when a scam is perpetrated on our members by a fringe player. Such is the case with this fraud alert. The gist is that the same accounts were sold – or partially sold – to several different buyers. Here is what was reported:
It was a small answering service in a remote area. The sellers reached out to TAS owners, offering to sell their client list. The asking price was a reasonable amount, neither too high nor too low. Things appeared to be in order, with proper documentation and attention to detail. Negotiations progressed as expected, with specifics being worked out and stipulations agreed to. As things drew towards a conclusion, a few red flags began to emerge. However, the risk was relatively low, and everything else was proceeding as expected. For the trusting buyers, with time and emotion invested in the purchase, it was easy to overlook these minor warning signs.
Then the sellers asked for money in advance. They were even accommodating in agreeing to receive a percentage in advance and the balance once the transfer was complete. Several TAS owners acquiesced, dispatching the agreed-upon advance payment. As it turned out, the buyer who acted quickest did end up with the accounts, but the others did not fare so well. The first indication of malfeasance surfaced when the new owner begins receiving calls from the other “buyers,” effectively demanding, “Why are you answering my accounts that I just bought?”
As far as the buyer who actually ended up with the accounts, the saga has not been pleasant for him either. Though he has the accounts, he can’t bill most of them for six months, because unbeknownst to him, they had paid for their service six months in advance.
How could this have been avoided? First, great care must be taken if any monies are to be paid in advance. Had each buyer made an on-site visit to hand the money over, he or she would have been able to see that there were no accounts to purchase. Another simple step would be to ask around. The TAS community is small, and no one operates in a vacuum. Surely, someone would have known about the seller’s reputation and business ethics.
Unfortunately, this scam alert doesn’t apply just to buying accounts. Similar swindles have also occurred regarding used equipment sales.
Though the TAS industry is a great one and friendships abound, it behooves everyone to remember, “Buyer beware!”