Internet scams are booming, and why not? They’re easier to pull off than robbing a bank. And, they don’t require weapons any more hazardous than a home computer. Small business owners can easily fall victim. Your vulnerability may lie in that you’re often too busy multi-tasking – keeping your business humming – to exercise sufficient caution. How can you avoid being the victim of a scam as a small business owner? Acquaint yourself with the most common ones. You’ll notice an offer or request that has the hallmarks of internet scams.
Some common internet scams are “rip-offs”. You might get something in return for what you pay, but not much. One is the SEO (search engine optimization) quick fix. Naturally you want your website to draw in new customers, and hope it can be accomplished quickly and cheaply. Search engines – especially Google – are very adept at rejecting old SEO tricks that used to result in high search rankings.
SEO Internet scams
The Internet has many blogs questioning the value of SEO services in general, not just the scams. In reality, up-to-date SEO tactics can help your business, but not on the cheap. They don’t perform miracles.
Be sure to review the credentials of anyone who promises to push your website to the top of search engines. Talk to the key people at that company with your hype detector turned on. Also, talk to more than one (ideally, at least three) SEO service providers before pulling the trigger. Along similar lines, companies are always promoting small business coaching and business development services. Some might even be legitimate…many aren’t.
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) forced a promoter to return fees paid by more than one thousand victims. “Most people who bought the defendants’ services did not develop a functioning business, earned little or no money, and often ended up in debt,” according to the FTC. In a similar case, the FTC shut down a business coaching promoter that sold information packages for nearly $14,000.
Common scam tactics
Take note of the following tactics that, according to the FTC, scammers commonly use. They:
- Make themselves appear credible by claiming to have connections with a company you know or a government agency.
- Rush you to make a decision before you have a chance to investigate what’s being offered.
- Warn you that something drastic is about to happen. They prompt you to make a payment before you have a chance to give their claims a reality check.
- Typically want payment through wire transfers, reloadable cards, or gift cards that are nearly impossible to reverse or track.
Some internet scams and theft schemes continue to take a toll on business owners and consumers alike. Often the “new” ones are just more sophisticated, and therefore effective, versions of the old ones. Take phishing, for example. The perpetrators’ goal is usually to steal your money outright. They try to gain access to your business or personal bank or investment accounts.
Caught in a phishing net
Scammers who hope to catch you in their phishing nets and haul you in have become very adept at collecting information about you or people you know (including family members) and using it to gain your confidence. If you have at least a modest digital social life, you have probably left enough information about yourself online that can be snagged by a skilled phisher.
Such information can be used by a scammer to pose as an acquaintance who is asking you to check out a website for some logical reason. Following a link to a website can result in your computer being infected with a virus that can be used to hijack your computer to gain access to login and passwords you use to engage in financial transactions. Virus detection software is helpful, but not foolproof.
Phishing scams also can lead you to websites meticulously constructed to mimic a legitimate site. It could take the form of an office supply company, either an imaginary one or a fake version of a legitimate business’s website. You “purchase” goods but never receive them, and the scammer pockets the money.
Even the best email spam filters can be tricked—and when they are, you might be, too. Consider these pitches you might fall for in a moment of weakness, even if you would hang up on someone who tried to deceive you using a phone call:
- You receive a (phony) invoice that looks like it’s for a product or service your business uses, such as your website’s domain registration. You might be unsure about who your domain is registered with, but know that you’d be in big trouble if it expires. So in a panic you pay the bill, only later to discover the bill was bogus.
- You receive an email seeking confirmation on an existing order of office supplies or other merchandise. Without thinking, you confirm. Then the stuff arrives, and if you don’t pay for it promptly, you get threatening demands for payment noting that you confirmed the order. To end the harassment, you just pay the bill, and vow not to fall for that one again.
- Scammers purporting to be from a gas, electric, or water utility inform you that your service is about to be interrupted unless you pay an invoice immediately by wire transfer. In reality, your service was never at risk.
- You receive a message from a “government agency” threatening to suspend your business license, or fine you, or take legal action if you don’t pay up. Or maybe you’re informed that you must buy labor law compliance posters that you can get free from the Department of Labor.
The speed and convenience of the Internet can be a great boon to your business, but it can be equally helpful to scammers. Developing a moderately suspicious mind, stopping short of paranoia, may be the best tip on how to avoid being the victim of a scam.