Six Scams Targeting Small Business Owners
One of the most frustrating elements of our business at Mediastead is helping our clients when they have been scammed. Unfortunately, website and IT services are among the most common scams, giving our entire industry a reputation for being unscrupulous.
Here are some common scams we’ve seen.
IRS Impersonators – A rampant scam currently is telephone-based. Either a live person or a Robo call contacts you to say that you are in trouble with the IRS for false business tax filings. Sole proprietorships are often targets because their business taxes are actually personal taxes. The caller implies that there is a business tax debt. Luckily, the debt can be rectified with an easy payment plan with a credit card or direct bank withdrawal. First of all, the IRS never contacts you by telephone first! If there is ever a real issue, you’ll receive a letter.
Fake Invoices – An old scam has been revitalized in the information age. Years ago fake companies would send invoices for copier toner, office paper, or other supplies hoping small companies would pay the bill. Today the scam often involves elements related to your website. Domain renewals, business listings, advertisements or web hosting are some of the most common scams. Often these fake invoices imply that some service is going to be interrupted or terminated unless the bill is paid immediately.
Fake Security Alerts – Impersonating a PayPal, a bank, or credit card company, an email implies that you should immediately change your password due to a potential breach in security. You are given a link which takes you to a fake website designed to mimic the financial institution. Here you are asked to give your “old” password and potentially other data such as Social Security numbers or your EIN, essentially giving your password to the hackers.
Fake Virus Alerts – A warning message that can’t be closed appears on your screen after visiting a website or opening an email. The message says that Microsoft has locked your operating system “for your protection” to prevent damage by a virus or hacking attack. You are asked to call it telephone number and speak to a Microsoft Tech Support representative. The representative informs you that they can safely give you a code to remove the virus, however the cost of the customer support call is anywhere from $35-$200. Typically these so-called alerts are malicious website code that can be avoided simply by closing the window using the keyboard command rather than your mouse. Sometimes, however, they use software, known as “ransomware” that can lock up your computer or even erase data unless you pay.
Directory Listing Services or SEO Services – Companies claim to represent Google offered to let you pay to appear at the top of Google listings. Other times companies claim to have mastered a secret Search Engine Optimization technique that will guarantee top placement. Ironically, often these companies have found you by using Google. They sell you a one-time listing or a recurring service to make sure that you “aren’t removed or penalized” from your premium listing spot.
Rapid Cash Loans – Robot calls invite you to visit a website to fill out a loan application. Many times these calls will offer extremely low interest rates or “operating capital” loans. They also offer extremely quick delivery of cash directly to your bank account. Legitimate lenders only make loans that have collateral and rarely make loans to fund operating expenses. In reality these fake applications are collecting information including bank records. Sometimes the lenders will also charge an application fee that can be billed to your credit card.
Nigerian Prince needs a money manager to hide his millions as he flees the country. Okay, this one’s totally legit. It’s very dangerous for him to keep money. I’m certain that you seem so trustworthy based on your Facebook profile. Go for it if you get the opportunity! [Snarky Sarcasm]
If it sounds too good to be true…