The Great Pretenders

Ounce Of Prevention

For a business to be held liable for an accident, its employees must have either known about the hazard or reasonably be expected to have known about it and failed either to remove it or to warn people. Accordingly, con artists usually either find an existing hazard or wait awhile after creating one. That means careful attention on your part greatly reduces your chances of being hit by a scam (as well as reducing the chance of real accidents).

Regularly check your premises for potential dangers, and eliminate them immediately. These include improperly stacked displays, leaks from coolers, debris on the floor, oil spills in the parking lot, ice on the sidewalk, poorly cleaned spills, and loose carpets, floor mats or weatherstripping.

Train employees to display "Wet Floor" signs every time they mop.

Keep a chart of when you clean public restrooms. That way, you have a defense if someone claims there was a spill on the floor for hours.

Train employees to watch for suspicious behavior. It's not easy to recognize a professional hustler, but you might catch an amateur and avoid paying a claim.

If someone falls or gets hurt on your property, be sympathetic. "These are your customers," says Jon Hoch of the NICB in Palos Hills, Illinois. "They're innocent until proved guilty. The worst thing you can do is say 'You're not hurt.' Maybe they are."

Have one employee help the customer, while another takes pictures of the scene for later use. (Keep a single-use camera handy.) Explain that you want to do everything possible to help.

Call an ambulance and the police, who will press the customer for identification.

Ask other customers if they saw what happened; get their names and phone numbers. Beware of a witness who seems too eager to help, though; con artists often bring their own "witnesses."

If you're suspicious, mention it to your insurance adjuster. Also call the NICB at (800) TEL-NICB. The adjuster can investigate, decide if the claim is fraudulent, and perhaps save your business a bundle.

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This article was originally published in the July 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Great Pretenders.

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