Consumers aren’t the only ones who have to keep their guard up for phone calls from scammers pretending to work for the government. Small businesses increasingly are becoming targets, too.
According to a new Better Business Bureau (BBB) survey of small-business owners, 67 percent of respondents say their businesses face more risks from scams today than just three years ago. The scams range from crooks asking for payments for merchandise the business never ordered to hucksters giving businesses fake checks.
Government agencies, aware of the growing threat, are taking action. For example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) — working with eight state attorneys general, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and several other law enforcement groups — recently announced a coordinated crackdown against scammers who had conned small businesses out of more than $290 million.
For small-business owners — roughly 50 percent of whom are over the age of 50 — the message is clear: Keep an eye out for costly cons.
“Scams are a significant — and growing — problem for small businesses,” says Beverly Baskin, interim president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “Nearly two-thirds of those we surveyed said their business had been targeted by a scammer in the past three years, and many said that their businesses suffered a loss of consumer trust as a result.”
Both the FTC and BBB say that one of the best ways that small businesses can protect themselves from scams is to stay informed about the different techniques used by people who try to take advantage of small companies. According to the recent BBB survey, 38 percent of respondents say that hearing about a particular type of scam is the best way to avoid falling victim to it.
According to the BBB report, six of the most common scams small businesses face are:
- Bank or credit card company impostors who pretend to be verifying account information but are really trying to get access to a business’s accounts
- Government agency impostors who threaten to suspend business licenses, impose fines or take other actions if the business doesn’t pay taxes or pay other fees
- Fraudulent services that promise to offer listings in business directories, advertising services or assistance that can help a business get better internet search-engine results
- Fake invoices or supplier bills cons, in which the scammers try to coerce small businesses into paying for products they never received
- Fake checks for purchases
- Tech support scams
Many of the legal actions the FTC and its partners took in the coordinated crackdown, dubbed Operation Main Street: Stopping Small-Business Scams, were against people accused of committing scams similar to those the BBB report warns of. Some of the other small-business scams allegedly committed by those facing charges as part of the crackdown include attempts to coerce small businesses into paying for supplies — such as toner and light bulbs — they never ordered and robocalls offering business loans and vacation packages.
“When someone scams or defrauds a business, they should be held accountable. In doing so, we create an environment where all legitimate business owners can thrive,” says Mark Brnovich, attorney general of Arizona, one of eight states that joined in Operation Main Street.
If you think your business has been targeted by a scammer, you may report the incident to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.