SCAM ALERT: Fraudsters prey on unsuspecting business owners

Posted at 6:42 PM, Oct 06, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-06 18:42:47-04

Small business owners received a note claiming to be from the labor compliance office ordering them to pay $275.00.

With a state seal and a warning saying failure to comply could lead to fines and an audit, most recipients paid.

“It looked very legal, so we paid without hesitation,” says Paola Ibarra, a fraud victim.

The reality: They were being scammed.

Paola Ibarra was one of those victims. She had just opened a children’s clothing store when she got the letter.

“We knew once we filed the LLC there were a couple of taxes that had to be due within 90 days of the opening,” says Ibarra.

They assumed the note from the labor compliance office was from the government and was a bill they needed to pay.

“We went ahead and sent a check,” says Ibarra.

Three months later they learned they were one of 125,000 businesses who received the letter.

“Small business owners received this official looking invoice and they thought they had to pay it. They wanted to keep their business in compliance; they wanted to continue to run their business the way they are supposed to,” says Wynter Kugel, a U.S. Postal Inspector.

“You get scared. Oh my gosh, there a lot of people trying to take advantage,” says Ibarra.

Postal inspectors say 'if' all of the recipients had sent money, this scam could have produced more than 35 million dollars.

“The fraudsters prey on unsuspecting business owners knowing they are going to get a lot of results and a lot of checks in the mail for doing nothing,” says Kugel.  “These fraudsters only want one thing. Your money.”

“It was a learning experience for us. Now we`re very careful of what we pay and we double check everything we get,” says Ibarra.

Some advice from postal inspectors: take the time to research if the company or organization that sends you a bill is legitimate and 'if' you even really owe any money.

“Do an Internet search on the company and their company name and see what comes up. You may find out people have already identified it as a scam,” says Kugel.

Postal inspectors say they were able to return most of the money lost to the victims. The suspects who created the letters signed a cease and desist order and promised not to take part in such activity again.