Today we have a story about merchant cash advance providers, companies that offer small businesses cash up front in exchange for collecting a portion of their future credit card sales, plus a hefty premium. I got a lead on this story last month, when a reader forwarded an email sales pitch from a company called Merchant Cash Solutions 24/7. The pitch began with what purported to be an excerpt from a story I wrote:

But there is no such story. Here’s the actual headline to the story we published on Aug. 20:

Credit Cards Replace Small Business Loans

As commercial loans become harder to find, small business owners give in to aggressive credit card marketers and get slammed with 30% interest rates

I spoke with Corn yesterday. He was very cordial and called me back right after I left a message. I asked him how he came to send an email that attached my name and BusinessWeek’s brand to a fake story.

Corn said he didn’t change our story, but that he found the text he used online somewhere. “I can’t even remember where I got that,” he told me. “I do remember when I did see it I went to BusinessWeek to look for your article and I couldn’t find it.” But he used it anyway.

I’ll take him at his word if he says the misappropriation was unintentional (although neither of us has been able to find the source he says he took it from). Corn apologized and said he would stop using it.

This comes with the territory when you publish online. Our reporting can be copied or misappropriated with no effort at all. Spam blogs and other questionable SEO gambits constantly pull RSS feeds from copyrighted sources and regurgitate the stories. Even some companies post full-text articles on their sites without permission, rather than posting an excerpt and a link. (For those interested in the appropriate way to do this, I’d suggest reading up on fair use.)

This post is just to set the record straight — in case anyone else got a similar email and, like the reader who passed it along to me, was searching for the story it purported to cite. When you see a legitimate brand — BusinessWeek’s or any other — used in marketing for another company, be skeptical and check it out. And if it doesn’t check out, let us know.

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