FF12: Kansas business owner hit by marketing scheme

WICHITA, Kan. If you own a business or even answer the phone at work, Steve Stonehocker wants you to hear his story so you don’t fall for it.

He works hard restoring cars in his one-man auto body shop outside of Clearwater. It’s just him. Steve doesn’t have room in his budget for marketing. A few weeks ago, he answered the phone and was told otherwise.

“They said I’d placed the ad a year ago and it was past due and if I didn't get it taken care of, they were going to take me to collections,” says Stonehocker referring to a company that called him claiming he signed up for online advertising.

He didn't pay that one, but another call came and under pressure, Steve charged $720 on a credit card to pay for online advertising that he never signed up for.

“I didn't know what to do," he says. "You have no idea what they're talking about.”

After agreeing to pay, Stonehocker received more invoices from companies claiming he owed money. FactFinder 12 tracked one of the addresses to a UPS store.

Our calls and voicemails were not returned.

One company, called Orbit77 answered.

A spokesperson stands by their story that Stonehocker signed up for an advertising package, but because we called, he told me they would refund the money. Steve never got it. He also told me they would provide proof that Stonehocker signed up for their service. We never got that either.

The FTC warns of this:
“Con artists call businesses, claiming to "verify" or “confirm” a company’s contact information for its listing in a business directory. Of course, there’s no existing listing — and maybe not even a real business directory — but the employee who picked up the phone doesn’t know that. Persuasive double-talkers bulldoze the employee into saying yes. Later, if the company complains it didn’t agree to the listing, the fraudsters may play back a tape of the call (which might have been doctored) as “proof.”
“Con artists call businesses, claiming to verify or confirm a company's contact information for its listing in a business directory. Of course, there's no existing listing — and maybe not even a real business directory"

“If you don't pay, the bad guys up the ante by making collection calls and sending collection notices,” says the FTC.

“They tell you if you don't take care of this you are going to get turned over to collections and they'll ruin you,” says Stonehocker.
He’s had enough and just wants other businesses to hear his story so they don't fall for it.

“I told them what happened to me and if you get this call I can give you a phone number of someone who can help you. That would be you (KWCH),” says Stonehocker.