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Small business owners on the lookout for bogus bills

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

Small business owners already have a lot on their plates - now add dealing with billing scams to the list.

The smaller the business, the more responsibility that falls on the owner, including being on the lookout for bills that aren't legit.

If you own a small business, you've got so many decisions to make, so much responsibility and too few hours in the day.

And that's exactly what scammers are counting on - a CEO distracted by more important things.

That's when they'll try to slide something crooked right pass you.

"As a business owner, it's my responsibility to make sure this stuff doesn't happen," Mark Giebelhaus said.

Giebelhaus has owned a Phoenix plumbing company since 1982. As CEO of Marlin Mechanical Corporation, he's responsible for his people and his profits. One of his jobs is to review and approve bills that come across his desk each month.

"I got to one from a company I didn't recognize, and it was for phone maintenance service for $425, I know who our phone service vendor is, and it's not this company," Giebelhaus said.

That was a good catch from the CEO, but it took focus and attention. Bills from suppliers and vendors all tend to have a similar look - this one was no exception.

"It looked very much like an invoice. It was printed out, company name at the top, a remit to address," Giebelhaus said.

That is how scammers hope to catch small business owners. The bogus bill looks so real that it gets past the first line of employees and the busy owner pays it - thinking it's legit. That's a costly mistake.

"Our company would have paid $425 to a scam company that we're not doing business with, and don't intend to do business with," Giebelhaus said.

That's easy money for the scammer, without a lot of work involved.

"It's kind of like spamming. If they send enough of them out, even if they get a 2 to 5 percent return on them, that's a lot of money," Giebelhaus said.

All small business owners should do as Giebelhaus did, look closely at your invoices - so nothing bogus slips through.

"As a business person, be vigilant in your own company and make sure anything you've paid, you've approved it first," Giebelhaus said.

This is a scam that never goes away - small business owners need to be on the lookout for bogus bills all the time.

Don't rely on someone in accounts payable to do the job for you, even if they're a very capable employee.

In the end, the boss is responsible for any money going out the door, so if you see a bill that looks fishy - follow up.

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