At the start of the new year, it's a good time to brush up and train employees on the most prevalent scams targeting small businesses and how to avoid them. Here's a quick look at five small business scams to watch out for in 2017 and beyond, according to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
1. Directory scams
Owners of small businesses and non-profits often get inundated with phone calls and messages from people who want to list their companies in online directories. In return for a fee, these directory services promise to deliver greater visibility and ultimately more customers for your growing business.
That may sound great. But it's important to know many of these offers are scams. In one recent example, the FTC went after a Slovakian company called Fair Guide for deceptive practices after it fooled US businesses into paying millions of dollars to be listed in an online directory.
2. Tech support scams
Tech support scams — where criminals posing at tech support personnel contact a user and request computer access so they can "fix a problem" that doesn't really exist—have been around for quite a while. And now there's a new twist.
Federal investigators say scammers have been contacting computer uses claiming to be from the Global Privacy Enforcement Network. The scammer then explains that the user's email has been hacked and is sending fraudulent messages. They also threaten to take legal action if the user doesn't give them access to the computer. Make sure employees never give control of their computer to anyone who calls from outside the company offering to fix something.
3. IRS scams
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scams seem to be all the rage these days. But they're also relatively easy to avoid, if employees know a few things about how the IRS actually behaves.
For example, if the IRS needs to reach somebody, they'll do it via US mail first. The IRS would never request personal information—such as credit card or Social Security numbers—over the phone. The IRS would never threaten to arrest or sue the person they contact—and lastly, the IRS does not receive or request payments in the form of a gift card, an iTunes card, or a MoneyGram or Western Union wire transfer.
4. Check scams
These solicitations usually look like bills, invoices, account statements, flyers or brochures. Businesses may also get something that looks like a rebate or refund check—and there's strong possibility that it's a scam.
Read the fine print carefully. Companies that cash the check may be agreeing to get billed monthly for products or services that are unwanted or unneeded, such as internet access or a listing in an online directory. And getting out of those contracts can be a nightmare.
5. Ransomware scamsRansomware is more prominent, more sophisticated and more troublesome than ever. Hospitals, consumers and businesses of all sizes made headlines in 2016 because they fell victim to nasty ransomware viruses designed to encrypt digital files and render them useless until a hefty ransom is paid to get them back. About 4,000 ransomware attacks occur every single day in the United States alone, according to the US Department of Justice.
The best way to avoid a devastating ransomware infection is to make sure employees use extreme caution when opening email attachments or clicking on links inside the bodies of emails. Any unsolicited email—or emails that look suspicious in any way—should be avoided altogether. Firewall and antivirus software can also help companies avoid an infection.
None of those measures are foolproof, however. That's why it's critical to make sure that all data is properly backed up and easily recoverable in the event of an attack. A high-quality cloud backup solution is the only way to make sure your data will be safe and accessible no matter what happens.
Here's hoping that your small business remains safe, secure, and scam-free going in 2017 and beyond.