Bogus web development scam targeting small businesses

Having a web presence can make a big difference in the success of a new business and scammers are well aware of that.

Starting a small business is both challenging and rewarding. Unfortunately, scammers are eager to exploit the learning curve small business owners must take on to launch a new business.

NCL has begun receiving dozens of complaints from consumers who sought to build a website for a side gig and from established small business owners seeking to improve their website or purchase IT equipment to better serve their community. One complaint we received from a consumer in Texas is typical of the scam:

"I was looking for someone to make a website for my small clothing business that I had been wanting to commercialize ... I was told that the website and the online shop would be done within a maximum of 7 business days after the first payment of $5000... It has been a month [since I paid] and here I am still waiting for [the owner of the supposed IT resource company] to get back to me. I couldn’t get through to them by phone or email ... they, stole my money and my hope."

The fake web developer scam can take many forms, but regardless of the shape the scam takes, the result is always the same. Sadly, we have received dozens of complaints detail similar stories with small business owners reporting loses from $2,500 to as much as $50,000. While the web development scam can be devastating, there are steps you can take to ensure that your small business starts off on the right foot.

  1. If it sounds too good to be true, it is probably a scam. If you find a web developer or an IT solutions company that offers you products that are well below the cost of their competitors, or if they can deliver you a digital product in an unusually short period of time, they are probably scamming you.
  2. Check reviews. See what their former customers wrote about them. If a company provides an inferior product or charges their customers and does not provide any product, people will often take to the internet to voice their concerns. Before sending any money, check reviews–and the company's response to the reviews–on sites like Yelp and Google.
  3. Check to see if they have complaints filed against them at the Better Business Bureau (BBB). When consumers are wronged, they will often go to the BBB seeking help. If a business has a lot of complaints filed against them, they are probably not a good choice for your small business.

Spotting a fake web developer scam can be tricky, but with a little research you can greatly reduce your chances of falling prey to them. Still, even the best fraud spotters can get tricked from time to time. If you spot this scam, or fall victim to one, please file a complaint at Fraud.org via our secure online complaint form. We’ll share your complaint with our network of more than 90 law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can–and do–put fraudsters behind bars.