The world, unfortunately, has no lack of jackals who see every disaster as an opportunity to run a scam. That's certainly true for the current pandemic, but what's different this time, according to the Federal Trade Commission, is that many scammers are specifically targeting small businesses.
The FTC recently identified several small business scams that are popping up more frequently on their radar. A general theme in most of them is that suddenly having masses of employees working from home has created a huge cybersecurity problem.
Here's what to look out for.
1. "Public Health" Scams
Business owners are naturally more aware that they have a responsibility to help their community stay healthy. That's why scammers have been sending emails and texts that purport to be from public health offices, like the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Such messages phish for Social Security numbers and tax IDs, or insist that you click on a link (which will install malware on your system) or, worse, download a document that, if opened, will infect your system with a virus.
Remember: Never click on a link or download a document from an email unless you are 100 percent certain it comes from a known and trusted source. Aren't sure? Search the web for the real phone number and make a call.
2. "Government Check" Scams
Since there actually are some government programs providing assistance to small businesses, it's not surprising that scammers imitate those programs to make some illegal cash. Typically the pitch is that, to receive a government check, you need to pay some kind of processing fee or provide them with information that they can use to steal your identity or get into your personal or business bank accounts.
Remember: Any government request for an up-front payment to receive a refund or government check is definitely a fraud.
3. "Internal Email" Scams
According to the FTC, the economic upheaval caused by Covid-19 "has led to a flurry of unusual financial transactions -- expedited orders, cancelled deals, refunds, etc." As a result, "an emergency request that would have raised eyebrows in the past might not set off the same alarms now" because "teleworking employees can't walk down the hall to investigate a questionable directive." Knowing that, scammers send emails that look as they've from the CEO or other trusted source, insisting that the employee immediately transfer funds into a fake bank account.
Remember: An email that asks you to do something during the pandemic that you normal
4. "IT Staff" Scams
This is a variety of the "internal email" scam, but purports to be from the IT staff. In this case, the request isn't for a fund transfer but rather for information, like passwords, that one might share with IT staffer, figuring that the techies know what they're doing. This FTC gives two representative examples:
- "I spoke with Fred, who said you were having a computer problem."
- "The meeting has been shifted to our new teleconferencing platform. Here's the link."
Remember: Your IT group has never been all that helpful in the past; why should now be any different? (JK, IT!)
5. "Office Supply" Scams
With businesses as well as individuals panic buying, it's not surprising that scammers are offering difficult-to-find supplies that they can't possibly provide. Small businesses are prime targets for this because they typically lack the buying power to get priority from their distributors. Fortunately, most small business owners are smarter than the Trump administration, which paid $55 million to a bankrupt company with no employees for N95 masks that didn't exist, based on a tweet.
Remember: While supplies might be scarce, do due diligence and get bona-fides before sending any money anywhere.
6. "Prestige Award" Scams
Since most small businesses are suffering, any good news at all is more than welcome. What could be a better shot-in-the-arm for an ailing business than receiving a prestigious award? Here's part of a pitch I received last week:
It is not a requirement, but is your option, to have us send you one of the 2020 Awards that have been designed for display at your place of business. As an Award recipient, there is no membership requirement. We simply ask each award recipient to pay for the cost of their awards. The revenue generated by the Hollis Award Program helps to pay for operational support, marketing and partnership programs for local businesses. There are various award types, sizes and shipping options. Also, we can create a digital award image during the production process at no extra charge for use on your website or with any of your other social marketing.
BTW, when I received that email, even I--skeptical as I usually am--was pleased and complimented--until I actually read the pitch and realized it was bullsh*t.
Remember: If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
7. "Legal Robocall" Scams
When you're worried about the pandemic, it's easy to forget that (according to the FTC) "a robocall trying to sell you something is illegal unless a company has your written permission to call you that way. To get your permission, the company has to be clear it's asking to call you with robocalls, and it can't make you agree to the calls to get a product or service. If you're getting a lot of robocalls trying to sell you something, odds are the calls are illegal. Many are also probably scams." Here's a typical example of a small business-oriented robocall scam.
Remember: If it's a robocall, just hang up.