Small businesses don’t have to be victims of scams

It’s tough enough running a business without being constantly on the alert for phony invoices, fake checks and virus-filled email attachments that end up on your desk or inbox thanks to scam artists near and far. But that’s exactly what smart owners, managers and administrative staff must do.

Small Business owners lost almost $8 billion to fraud in 2010, according to Javelin Strategy & Research’s 2011 Small Business Owners Identity Fraud report. In fact, small business owners are victims of fraud at a rate of 15 percent more than the general population.

Better Business Bureau Serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming along with BBBs across the U.S. and Canada constantly hear from businesses that are being targeted by scammers. Unfortunately, scams are so commonplace that you probably have been a victim at least once if not multiple times.

Education – finding out what the scams are and the red flags that indicate something is not right –  is the first step in ensuring that you don’t become a victim. Being vigilant against fraud is not only important for a company’s bottom line, it also strengthens customer trust in the business.  

In general:

• Don’t respond to or open attachments or click on links in unsolicited emails.

• Use one computer for accounting that isn’t used for anything else, including email or Web surfing.

• Ask your bank to set up “dual controls” on your business account so that each transaction requires the approval of two people.

• Establish a daily limit on how much money can be transferred out of your account.

•Check balances and scheduled payments at the end of every workday.

• Update virus protection and security software regularly.

Phishing, directory and office supply scams lead the list of top scams that targeted businesses in 2013. They’re among six scams business owners should watch out for in 2014 as well.

Phishing emails – Some phishing emails specifically target small business owners with the goal of hacking into your computer or office network. Common examples include emails pretending to be from the IRS claiming the company is being audited or fraudulently using the BBB name saying your company has received a complaint.  If you receive a suspicious email that looks like it came from a government agency or BBB, don’t click on any links or open any attachments. Contact the agency or BBB directly to confirm the legitimacy of the email.

Directory Scams – A perennial problem that has plagued businesses for decades involves deceptive sales for directories. Commonly the scammer will call the business claiming he/she just wants to update the company’s entry in an online directory or the scammer might lie about being with Yellow Pages. The business is later billed hundreds of dollars for listing services they didn’t agree to or for ads that they thought would be in the Yellow Pages.

Office Supply Scams – Some scammers prey on small business owners in hopes they won’t notice a bill for office supplies such as toner or paper that the company never ordered.  Every year BBB receives thousands of complaints nationwide from small business owners who were deceived by office supply companies and billed for products they didn’t want.

Overpayment Scams – Be extremely cautious if a customer overpays using a check or credit card and then asks you to wire the extra money back to them or to a third party. Overpayment scams target any number of different companies including catering businesses, manufacturers, wholesalers and even sellers on sites such as eBay, Craigslist and Etsy.

Vanity Awards – While it’s flattering to be recognized for your hard work, some awards are just money-making schemes and have no actual merit. If you are approached about receiving a business or leadership award, research the opportunity carefully and be wary if you’re asked to pay money.

Stolen Identity – Scammers will often pretend to be a legitimate company for the purposes of ripping off consumers. When it comes to stolen identity, the company doesn’t necessarily lose money, but their reputation is potentially tarnished as angry customers who were ripped off by the scammers think the real company is responsible.

Pam King is president/CEO of BBB Serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming.

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