Many scammy practices tread on the edge of legality, managing to avoid crossing the line into the overly-malicious territory. Such questionable tactics were exhibited by the WebsiteBackup Company, which used postal mail to deliver unsolicited and confusing invoice-like letters to prospective customers to persuade them to send money to the company.
WebsiteBackup appears to have used public business directories, possibly Yahoo! Local, to obtain address and website information about the recipients, sending business a one-page letter that resembled an invoice and included the following payment slip.
The letter included an Account Summary section and seemed to imply that the recipient was subscribed to the "Website Backup Service Plan - WebsiteBackup Pro" at the annual fee of $70.00. Possibly to add legitimacy to the claim, it included an account number, which the recipient could use to log into their account on the "member page" at websitebackup.com/login.
The recipient was asked to remit payment, in the form of a check or money order, to:
2375 E. Camelback Rd, Suite 600
Phoenix, AZ 85016
This address matches the shared office space provided by Regus Corporation and seems to host various other businesses.
Those who called the company at the designated phone number 866-273-7934 reported reaching voice mail, which encouraged the caller to either call back during regular business hours or to leave a message and await callback. All the reports I've read indicate that the company did not return such messages.
Although the letter sent by WebsiteBackup avoided the use of the term "invoice," it succeeded at confusing people into thinking that they had to pay the requested fee. This is evident in the thread on Yelp where angry individuals complained about and published photos of WebsiteBackup "invoices." For instance, Adriana M. posted the following note:
"My company received the same very legitimate-looking invoice everyone else is talking about. I am in charge of paying the bills for the business and was almost taken."
Arie M. concurred, "The fake invoice is made to look very legit - multi colored print, envelope, etc. but it's not from a company that we do business with. It's designed to get someone not paying attention to send in a check."
Wayne D. justified his one-star rating by saying, "I'm giving these scammers a star for the beautiful-looking invoice and web site! Of course, they should have their testicles branded with a red hot iron for stealing from people, but an 'A' for effort!"
This Yelp thread is presently associated with the company named Site Host Solutions. According to Google's cache of this Yelp listing, it was associated with the company "Website Backup" until recently. I suspect the name was changed to in an attempt to distance WebsiteBackup from the negative reviews.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the company represented by this Yelp listing received 1 out of 5 stars. At the time of this writing, there were no positive reviews for the service, though a few days ago, there was a fake-looking review from Greg J., who claimed,
"I do not understand what is going on here but websitebackups.com is not fake I have had them for about 3 years they do what they say"
That review was deleted a few days ago. Prior to that time, Greg J. was associated with only 2 reviews, both boasting his successful experience with WebsiteBackup. I also located a positive statement from Linda T., who opened a Yelp account a few weeks before posting the endorsement that claimed, "We have had a great experience with Websitebackup Company and would recommend them highly." This review has been deleted. I also saw a snippet of a review by Aaron R., which began with "We have had a very positive experience with..." and has now been deleted as well.
I suspect the fake-looking positive reviews were removed because the dissatisfied participants of the Yelp thread started calling them out as being fabricated, which case further doubt on the legitimacy of WebsiteBackup.
The Google+ page of WebsiteBackup shows 55 reviews as of this writing, with the company receiving 1.7 out of 5 stars. About 45 of the reviewers gave the company 1 star and expressed frustration and perspectives consistent with those published on Yelp. For instance, Jason Bunger wrote, "I'll do my duty to report them to the appropriate authorities for fraud, although it probably won't amount to anything. I guess at this point it's just nailing them with a 1 star rating for being gigantic sacks of crap."
10 of the reviewers shared the opposite feedback, giving the company 5 stars. Strangely, as far as I can tell, all these positive reviewers appear to live or have lived in the area of Portland, OR, according to their Google+ profiles. Many have circled the Newlive Productions profile of an artist who, according to the profile, attended Portland Community College. A couple of the profiles have circled or reviewed the SEO Services Incorp profile. Newlive Productions +1'ed that profile too. One possibility is that this SEO firm relies on the same set of Google+ profiles or the people behind them to promote clients such as Newlive Productions and WebsiteBackup... Or I could be wrong; maybe this is a coincidence.
The WebsiteBackup Website
According to the letter sent by WebsiteBackup, its site websitebackup.com "is the general promotional website for WebsiteBackup Company," and is maintained "to inform visitors about the WebsiteBackup branded services and products." When I looked at this site, I couldn't locate information about the technology or people behind the company's services. I did see a page that listed its pricing plans. They ranged from $100 to $1,200 per year, depending on the number of pages and the amount of storage that the customer needed to back up.
The slick-looking website also explained that the company "provides automated website backup solutions as a service with no software to install. We monitor your site remotely for changes. If needed, you can restore your site back to a previous version that has been incrementally backed up over a specified period." All of this doesn't sound bad, if WebsiteBackup indeed provides such services and if you're willing to disregard their questionable customer outreach and persuasion practices.
The website included an about2.php page that listed endorsements from satisfied customers, which you can see below. However, my attempts to locate the companies to which these comments were attributed led me nowhere. I am not sure Wintr Inc, Spring Creations and Autummn Ltd actually exist.
As a side note, the about.php page on the company's website, the image of which I've captured for your viewing pleasure, offers a peak at the template that WebsiteBackup used for its website. The template included a place holder for listing the company's management and development team, though it seems WebsiteBackup decided against using this version of the page. The source code of that page includes the phrase "All of our servers are wind powered," which can be used to locate other websites using this template, if you feel so inclined.
According to the data provided by DomainTools, websitebackup.com got registered to WebsiteBackup Company around December 2014, a few months before the confusing letters were sent out. Prior to that change, the website lacked content and was associated with another entity. Therefore, it's unlikely that Greg J. has been using this service for 3 years, as he claimed in the review mentioned above. For this reason, I am doubtful of the claim, presented on the company's website, that they've been "protecting websites since 1995."
Incorporation and BBB Records
According to the Arizona Corporation Commission, WebsiteBackup LLC was registered as a Limited Liability Corporation in December 2014, specifying the address above. The record lists "Samuel Warren" as the company's manager. The entity that owns 20% or more of the company is listed as "The Sunflower Trust." (Thanks to Scott Zuberbuehler for letting me know about this record!)
The Better Business Bureau website has a record of WebsiteBackup LLC, which states that the company is not BBB-accredited. However, it does list customer reviews. As of this writing, the site lists 3 positive and 78 negative experiences.
The negative BBB reviews are consistent with those posted on Yelp. For instance, Macy D. posted, "This 'company' sent us an invoice for the amount of $70. We have never even heard of them. SCAM." The positive reviews are a sparse; though I have a hard time believing them, I will include one below for the sake of completion. Sharron K. reportedly wrote:
"I have been a happy WebsiteBackup customer for over two years now. Our website is vital part of our family owned jewelry business as almost one-third of our sales come from the Internet. We cannot afford to have our website go down or to rebuild it after a crash. WebsiteBackup takes all the mystery and difficulty out of it. Our IT professional recommended WebsiteBackup and we're glad he did!"
Since the company was founded less than a year ago, I struggle to understand how Sharron K. could have used them for over two years.
WebsiteBackup posted the same response to all the reviews on the BBB website. Strangely, it is associated not only with the negative comments, but also with two of the positive ones. The comment states:
"WebsiteBackup Company is committed to providing high quality backup solutions at a fair and competitive price. We have carefully checked our records and this person is NOT AN EXISTING CUSTOMER of ours. It has recently come to our attention that a commercial solicitation was sent out to businesses that may have caused some confusion. If any business has received a solicitation that was not marked 'Bill' or 'Invoice' they are under no obligation to pay. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and will no longer use that solicitation in the future."
I'll leave it up to you to decide whether this is an earnest apology.
Is This a Scam?
Perhaps the wonderful people of WebsiteBackup provide excellent backup services to their valued customers. Unfortunately, I could not find any information to substantiate that perspective. Instead, the company employed practices that, at best, can be classified as questionable to contact prospective customers.
The letter sent by WebsiteBackup looked like an invoice, yet had no disclaimer that it was not a bill. This appears to violate Title 39, United States Code, Section 3001, which "makes it illegal to mail a solicitation in the form of an invoice, bill, or statement of account due unless it conspicuously bears a notice" such as the one below:
"THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO PAY THE AMOUNT STATED ABOVE UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THIS OFFER."
I saw no such notice on WebsiteBackup's letter. Perhaps it's not surprising, therefore, that many of its recipients deemed the letter to represent a scam.
If anyone from WebsiteBackup wishes to send me a comment regarding their company's services or practices, I'll be glad to share your feedback with my readers.