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Economy & Business

Scammers Target Small-Town Missouri Businesses For Their Love Of High School Football

Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
The Rolla Bulldogs are practicing for their season opener. Businesses that want to support the team have been the target of scams.

Small towns love their high school football team. 

So much so, that every year around this time there are scam artists who try to prey upon that pride to get money from local businesses.

The scam works like this: An out-of-town printing company calls businesses saying it is printing items to promote the high school team, and asks them to be sponsors by buying an ad. 

But the money doesn’t go to support the team, and the items may never be printed.

“It’s a sports calendar of some sort. It’s going to have ads around it, and a sports schedule. And I have yet to see any of these magnets or posters,” said Stevie Kearse, executive director of the Rolla Area Chamber of Commerce.

Kearse said even that if the items are printed, there are usually only a handful of them, and they are sent to the companies that placed the ad and not widely distributed.

The Rolla chamber office has received calls from businesses in recent weeks, some that have fallen for the scam and others who were dubious and wanted to check it out.

Kearse is trying to get the word out to businesses. It’s a common scenario this time of year, especially in towns the size of Rolla, about 20,000, Kearse said.

“The great thing about the Rolla community is the businesses always back our kids, and they are always wanting to support every project that they happen to have going on,” Kearse said. “And these companies know that, and that’s why they use the schools, because everyone wants to support the schools.”

Kearse said any business approached with such an offer should check with their local chamber of commerce or the Better Business Bureau. The BBB has dozens of complaints about many companies that have used this scam all over the country. Often it’s the same people, as the scam artists change the company name after people catch on.

Legal recourse in such cases is difficult, Kearse said. Technically, the scams often are legal, because a small number of the products are printed; it’s just a waste of money, and the sales pitch is misleading.

“And even if it is illegal, the only option is to go to small claims court to try to get a few hundred dollars from a fly-by-night, out-of-town company,” Kearse said. “Good luck with that.”

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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