Be Alert to Deception: Unsolicited Emails

By Noah Robins, SBTDC/PTAC Counselor at Western Carolina University

One of the most frequent questions I get as a PTAC counselor is “is this email legit?” As businesses who have registered in the System for Award Management will tell you, unsolicited email contacts from private firms offering a wide range of government contracting assistance are a weekly (if not daily) reality. These emails can run the gamut from legitimate marketing emails from government contracting consultants to outright scams. And unfortunately, by registering in SAM, you’re agreeing to make information about your business publicly viewable, so it’s difficult to avoid receiving these communications. *Note: you can choose to make your SAM registration NOT publicly viewable, but doing so will also make information about your business more difficult for government purchasers to access as well.

In general, I advise clients to be wary; many of these email communications ask you to take an action, including payment, and I’ve developed the following guidelines to help with the question of whether to take an email seriously.

  • Know what you’ve signed up for (and what you haven’t): Keep files on which systems you have registered in, and the information that you used to register. If an email or other marketing communique references registering an account, changing account settings, or upgrading an account, double-check your files to be sure that this is in fact a service you want (or have already signed up for).
  • Trust your instincts: If the content of an email seems a little too good to be true, then likely it is. Third-party promises of contract awards, outlandish claims about success rates, and overly-general material (for instance, reference to industries that aren’t even close to what you do) are all warning signs.
  • Look for “.gov”: Any legitimate email communication from a Federal agency, contracting officer, or SAM should bear a valid governmental email address (to also include .mil and .edu). If you don’t know the sender and they don’t have a governmental address, view their email as marketing material until you learn more.
  • Unsubscribe early and often: Virtually all of the marketing emails that I see do, somewhere, contain a link to an opt-out or unsubscribe function. But be careful: often these unsubscribe buttons can also lead you into creating an “account,” and simply collect more information from you before eventually allowing you to unsubscribe.
  • DON’T PAY! The most important piece of advice I would share is DON’T PAY for anything until you’ve verified that what you’re paying for is legitimate and useful. You will NEVER have to pay anything to register in SAM – this is always free.
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