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Scam Alert

Small Business, Big Scam

Beware of 4 ways that crooks can target your company

If you operate a small business, you have big cause for concern — beyond the state of the economy. Scammers have quietly been increasing their focus on companies like yours.

Some of the crooks target specific types of small businesses. Others use a one-size-fits-all ruse.

Targeting small businesses; beware of these scams

Beware of scams targeting small businesses. — Photo by Hans-Joachim Roy/iStockphoto

So watch out for these four leading lures:

“Deaf” callers. Since last autumn, there’s been a new wave of scammers who pose as deaf customers and place large orders for merchandise via telephone relay services.

The basic tool is the so-called TTY device, which allows authentically hearing-impaired people to communicate over phone lines by typing messages. A relay operator then reads the message to the call recipient.

What scammers do is purchase TTY devices on the Internet and, usually with stolen credit cards, order thousands of dollars in goods from businesses. Your company ships them the goods, which are then fenced for a profit, but you never get paid.

In the past, this ruse made for easy pickings because federal law dictated that the relay operator could not disclose the origin of the call, allowing crooks to mask their identities and location.

In an attempt to crack down on this abuse, the Federal Communications Commission ruled in 2009 that relay callers must register their phone numbers or Internet addresses.

But crooks now just register numbers from “pay-as-you-go” disposable cellphones or use public access computers to get around these protections.

The impact on a company can be devastating — although credit card liability law protects individuals from paying more than $50 of fraudulent charges, businesses may be on the hook for the full amount.

Your protection: Realize that telephone relay service scammers often make their orders with stolen credit card numbers — but may not have the actual cards.

So ask these callers, via relay operators, to provide the card’s three- or four-digit verification code — as well as their full name, address, telephone number and issuing bank and its phone number. Then verify that information with the card issuer before dispatching the order.

Next: Complaints from the Better Business Bureau. »

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