Better Business by Robb Hicken: Be wary of potential scams with commercial realty cold calls

ROBB HICKEN, chief storyteller for the Better Business Bureau serving the Snake River RegionJuly 16, 2013 

Robb Hicken

In the commercial real estate market, relationships do matter. But, when the market is ripe with movement, sometimes the cold call catches businesses - especially small businesses - off guard.

"There are those people who think a cold call is a waste of time," says Wayne Slaughter, investment specialist with Colliers International in Boise. "But when you're considering a lease or relocation, a lot of businesses aren't considering who to call, but the financial implications. That's when a cold call can work."

Slaughter, who has been in the Treasure Valley market for nine years, says there's a lot to say for relationships, but sometimes the young, hungry, upstart agent sets out and begins to make cold calls trying to establish a relationship.

"I mean, think about it: If you get one person in a hundred cold calls to talk to you about their real estate needs, you've helped yourself and the potential client," he says.

It's this same tactic scam artists are taking across the nation. The Better Business Bureau is reporting that businesses are receiving phone calls from people asking about their upcoming lease or building needs.

According to business representative, the callers seem to have Southeast Asian accents and sound like they're in a busy call center. The callers claim to be from a different government agency depending on the state, or an organization like BBB, a federal agency or "the State Land Board." Callers reportedly ask for detailed personal and business information.

It is likely a phishing scam, designed to get information that can be used for illicit purposes, or a means of gathering a list of leads that can be sold to moving companies or other buyers.

The BBB does not track company movements. We might sometimes call to update or verify an address, but we do not and would not ask companies if they are planning to move.

The BBB recommends:

Never give out personal or company information to someone you don't know, especially if you did not initiate the phone call. Many companies can lose their "corporate identity" simply by providing too much information.

Ask questions. If the caller does not identify himself or herself properly, ask for the name of the organization and a phone number you can call back. Ask: Why were we contacted? How was the selection process done?

Get professional help. Finding the right commercial office space isn't as easy as finding residential property. Chances are you'll need an agent to navigate you through the process of finding the perfect space. Before you select your agent, check the BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org.

Slaughter says commercial real estate cold calls are hard to make, because most business owners don't have time to talk.

"An agent with downtime may take the initiative to reach out to people he or she may not know," he says.

He adds, "These calls from agents are harmless, but agents should first identify themselves and the company they represent. And second, they should bottom-line the conversation."

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rhicken@boise.bbb.org, 947-2115

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