In July, Kim Larosa got a call from a company called Sports Media Marketing.
The person on the other end of the line told Larosa he was calling on behalf of Olentangy Liberty High School athletics and asked if she wanted to sponsor a T-shirt that would benefit the school's football team.
Both of Larosa's children attend Liberty, and she had been looking for the opportunity to advertise her newest business, Stretch Zone.
She said the call sounded legitimate and advertising to that demographic made sense to her.
"I own two businesses in Powell and have been a huge advocate for Liberty sports ... but I've never really tapped into the football market," she said.
Larosa paid $300 for a small, rectangular advertisement that would be printed on 500 shirts, according to the group on the phone. The T-shirts were to be delivered in the fall.
A few weeks later, the same group called her back. This time, they were selling space on basketball T-shirts.
"They said, 'Hey, we see you sponsored football; would you also do it for basketball?' at the same price," she said. "So I said, 'Yeah, great.' "
A few more weeks went by and Larosa didn't think much of the decision. But in September, she received a single T-shirt in the mail.
On the shirt, the Liberty logo was purple rather than blue and silver. The T-shirts were white with pixelated versions of the ads, along with other ads from national companies, such as Pizza Hut, FedEx and La Quinta, that she suspects are illegitimate.
Larosa called it "horrible" and knew immediately that something was off.
"I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh, this is awful,' " she said. "It was obvious that it was a scam."
Larosa asked her children if they had seen the shirts at football games, and they said no. She eventually reached out to the school and talked to Stefanie Contini, office aide, as well as facilities coordinator and cheerleading coach at Liberty.
For Contini, the call was one she had heard multiple times.
"We get these calls from these area companies where they're upset because they've been duped," she said.
She said she had spoken to someone with Pizza Hut who told her they had no idea about the supposed ad. Pizza Hut representatives did not respond to messages left at their local office.
Contini said the district has been aware of the business' practices but hasn't found a good way to combat them. She said such business' names change regularly, they don't tend to leave phone numbers and they're almost always based out of state.
It's not just a matter of scamming local businesses, she said -- these companies are taking money away from the schools.
"We sell banner space, game-day sponsorships, hand out stuff at games -- that's how we make money for the athletic department," she said. "These companies are taking away from what would go directly to the kids."
Larosa disputed the charges on her credit card and is in the process of working with her credit-card company to make sure she isn't on the hook for the $600. She even got a call from the T-shirt company claiming she needed to remove the dispute hold because it "had proof" the shirts were delivered.
At Liberty, Contini received the same shirt Larosa did but said only a handful were delivered, not the 500 promised.
Sports Media Marketing did not return messages left at the number given to Larosa.
Now Larosa and Contini both say they hope they can help prevent more scenarios like the one Larosa found herself in. They hope spreading word of the scams can ensure that others don't get snared.
"It's just a bunch of crap, and it's scamming local businesses who think they're supporting the schools," Larosa said. "It's a live-and-learn lesson for us."
Contini's advice is to verify sponsorships and purchases with the school and to ensure that companies are advertising through athletics boosters or other legitimate operations.
"We just want to get the word out to local businesses to not give them any money," she said. "It's not what they think."