10 Online Scams That Target Small Businesses

Vanity Scam
Someone wants to give you an award? Great! Just be dubious if they start talking about membership fees or other monetary requirements. © Westend61/Corbis

The so-called "vanity scam" is like the business-advice ploy in that it uses your emotions against you. In this case, it plays on pride and vanity, two traits that we usually try to keep hidden. These scams pile an extra helping of embarrassment on top of the shame of being gullible: You also have to admit that it happened in a moment of big-headedness, even if it was a momentary one.

Here's how the vanity scam goes when it's used on a small-business owner. You receive an e-mail with a pretty exciting offer, usually an award or the prospect of being included in some kind of "Who's Who" business directory. Finally, all your hard work has paid off! People like you, they really like you! All you have to do is hand over a fee to be included or to receive your award — it might be passed off as a "yearly membership" in a certain club.

This should stop you in your tracks: Maybe a directory listing could require a fee, but not too many legitimate business awards come with a fee. In any case, read the fine print and do your research. A quick Google search or check with the Better Business Bureau will tell you pretty quickly if the offer is legit or not. Chances are, it isn't.