Small businesses that sell products or services to the Federal government are routinely being taken advantage of by companies that charge them to register in System for Award Management (SAM). SAM is administered by the US General Services Administration (GSA). Launched in July of 2012, SAM combined the various federal government certifications and registrations, necessary to do business with Feds, into one application. SAM registration has always been free. This has not stopped a number of companies from sending out misleading emails, text messages and phone calls, often posing as being sanctioned by the Feds or from the government itself. The process of getting registered in SAM can be complicated, especially for new businesses. Disreputable companies exploit this to charge businesses as much as $700 to get registered and additional charges to maintain their registrations.
Fortunately, free assistance is available to companies who need to register in SAM. The SAM website has a user guide and other instructional tools, and specific assistance is available through the Federal Service Desk. There is also personalized service available through the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) program, which is funded through a cooperative agreement between the Federal government and local non-profit organizations. The Montana PTAC program offers free one-on-one assistance from any of its 9 advisors located at 7 host agencies around the State: Billings, Great Falls, Lewistown, Bozeman, Kalispell, Missoula and Hamilton.
The host agency for the Montana PTAC program is the Big Sky Economic Development Authority in Billings. Program manager Deanna Langman says that there are a number of ways businesses can spot the bad actors pulling these scams: “To start with, you have to make sure you are on the correct SAM site. Make sure the address is www.sam.gov/portal.” A simple Google search will turn up dozens of websites masquerading as the official SAM site. Make sure to look for the red, white and blue top hat logo. Langman also says to beware of scare tactics, warning that your registration may be “marked for deletion” or that “this is the last reminder you will receive before your registration becomes inactivated”. SAM registrations do have to be renewed once a year and vendors will receive notices from GSA, 60, 30 and 15 days from their renewal date. These reminder notices will come from firstname.lastname@example.org and are automated and look very plain. Langman added: “GSA will never ask you to call them or assign an agent or account representative to you. They will also never call you.” The scam companies personalize their emails with your name, business name and identifying codes. These tactics have worked even on experienced contractors. “When in doubt, be sure to call Montana PTAC. Our website is www.montanaptac.org where you can find the phone number of a trained government contracting advisor near you”, says Langman, “and there is no charge.”