Scammers Single Out Small Businesses

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COLUMBIA - Reports say small businesses continue to be a large target for scammers. The Better Business Bureau urges small business owners to train their staffs to be aware of the common scams that prey on small businesses. 

"We see a lot of examples where small businesses get caught up in scams that target businesses at the BBB," Columbia Better Business Bureau branch manager Mike Odneal said. 

Odneal attributes the vulnerability of small businesses to the constant stream of tasks that face a small staff.

"A lot of times it's due to the fact that small business owners are doing a lot of things simultaneously," Odneal said. "Being able to catch all of the details about emails or phone calls can be a little difficult for people to catch when they're doing everything at the same time."

One small business owner contacted KOMU 8 News saying she had fallen victim to an office supply scam being billed for hundreds of dollars worth of supplies that she didn't order. 

Odneal said this scam is popular and urged small business owners to be especially aware of this scam, as well as other frequent small business scams. The BBB and AARP suggest:

  1. Phishing emails - these are emails that look legitimate, many times claiming to be from the IRS claiming your company is being audited, or even from the BBB alerting you of a complaint being filed against you. When the email is opened, or links within the email are clicked, a virus is downloaded on your computer capturing personal information, such as bank details, social security numbers, and credit card accounts. Make sure to scan emails carefully and verify the legitimacy of the link before clicking on it.
  2. Directory Scams - In this scam, scammers call businesses usually claiming to be from the Yellow Pages or an online directory asking to update the company's information in a directory. During the conversation, the scammer records the phone call and later bills the company for being listed in the directory of for placing ads they never purchased. When the company refuses to pay, the scammer threatens legal action, usually resulting in the company cutting a check to stop the hounding. Make sure your employees are aware of this type of scam and consider only allowing a limited number of employees deal with transactions.
  3. Office Supply Scams - Some scammers prey on small business owners in hopes they won't notice a bill for office supplies such as toner or paper that the company never ordered. Odneal said the BBB receives thousands of complaints nationwide from small business owners who were deceived by office supply companies and billed for products they didn't want.
  4. Overpayment Scams - Be extremely cautious if a customer overpays using a check or credit card and then asks you to wire the extra money back to them or to a third party. Overpayment scams target any number of different companies including catering businesses, manufacturers, wholesalers and even sellers on sites such as eBay, Craigslist and Etsy. Always make sure to get all information from the customer, including full name, address and telephone number. Avoid wiring funds for any reason.
  5. Vanity Awards — As one of the top scams targeting small businesses, company's are approached with a "best of" honor like those that commonly appear in regional magazines. Many times the awards are fake and are made by a company calling itself the U.S. Commerce Association, a name that seems intended to make you think it's part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose 3 million-plus members include many small businesses. They often continue to charge the cardholder yearly "membership fees." A quick research of the organization offering the award can help save money. 
  6. Stolen Identity — Scammers will often pretend to be a legitimate company for the purposes of ripping off consumers. This might not put a business out of money, but it runs the risk of ruining a company's reputation and angering customers who were ripped off by the scammers who think your company is responsible.
Business Insider also warns against an emerging "TTY scam" that is coming after small businesses. In this scam, callers can remain anonymous and type messages to an operator, who relays the message to the caller's recipient. Operators can not disclose where the call is coming from so the scammer is able to request an expensive and large item from the business. They then pay with a stolen credit card and request a check for the large shipping fees that the scammer agrees to pay for in advance. Business Insider advises businesses to ask the person to verify the card verification code and provide the customer service number printed on the back of all credit cards. 
Odneal said he realizes the hassle factor that small businesses are faced with once falling victim to a scam. He stressed the importance of being cautious with every transaction you make.
"You really need to take it as a case by case basis," Odneal said."Don't just jump into an agreement written or verbal without looking into it further."
Those who fall victim to any scam, can report it online or by phone to the Better Business Bureau, or the Missouri Attorney General's Office.