Unfortunately, a number of scams and cybersecurity threats are once again making national news, especially because they are oftentimes targeting small business owners in particular. If you are a business opportunity, franchise or home-based or other small business owner, or even if you’re simply shopping to buy into one, you may want to be on the lookout for these scams and security threats, all of which are capable of putting you out financially, personally or of business altogether.
#1 Ransomware—Oh great, the newest thing in 21st century extortion involves your receiving a message of some kind on your screen that scares you into downloading a type of malware called “ransomware,” and then it locks you out of your computer until you pay up. To avoid this one, you’ve got to make certain your computers are protected using the most current anti-virus software and that you keep full backups of all your data should the worst-case scenario unfold. Plus, never download anything that you’re not 100% sure what it is.
#2 Business License Renewals—Seems a number of thieves and scam artists out there have gotten really good at making official-looking letters designed to bilk small business owners out of millions in phony business license renewal fees. Oftentimes, they’ll say there’s a penalty for being out of compliance or if you don’t pay up. Red flags to look for here? No phone number, email address or website to reach the sender to ask for verification to be found, just the option to mail money through the post office. Also, the fine print will oftentimes say, “This is not a bill,” but far too many people are missing it. Don’t be one of them.
#3 Phony Invoices—This one has been around a while, and it shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. The most common schemes involve fake invoices for office supplies, cloud-based computing and backup services, classified advertising and business directory listings, but any product or service you use routinely is a candidate. It’s important to scrutinize your bills and then match them closely to the products and services you know you ordered, all of which requires organization and, if you have staff, training.
#4 Telephone Relay Fraud—Telephone relay services, which are typically used by the hearing impaired to make phone calls and place orders for products and services, are just one of the latest tools employed by scam artists. In essence, what they’re doing is a variation on the overpayment scam, and they’re especially targeting small business owners, who tend to be very customer-service oriented and oftentimes willing to work outside the standard boundaries of exchange. In this scam, the customer claims his or her delivery service won’t take credit cards and asks the seller to foot the bill by wiring money to the shipper and to then bill the cost to the customer’s credit card, which is of course phony. Small business owners need to verify every aspect of a transaction through TTY or telephone relay services if they want to avoid falling victim to this one.
#5 Work at Home Scam—Recently, thieves who live outside the U.S. have been scamming individuals who are looking to make extra income working from home by receiving and shipping various products. Here’s the drill: These crooks use stolen credit card information to buy high-end merchandise online, then they set up shell companies that recruit U.S. residents to work from home and have the merchandise shipped to them. The thieves then provide the U.S. residents that they “hire” with electronic postage, which is also stolen, so that they can ship the packages to the thieves in their home country. The scammers promise to pay the U.S. residents for each package they reship, but they never do, and everybody loses…except the bad guys of course. As we always say, anyone who is looking for work-at-home opportunities needs to do their homework with the Better Business Bureau or at the very least check references. The bottom line? If it looks too good to be true, it more than likely is. End of story.