Keep your company safe from scammers

Shut the doors, pull the curtains, hide the valuables. These are the thoughts that flood to mind when we think about scammers and con artists. However, what we should be thinking is, “Run the virus scan, turn on the caller ID, and check every piece of mail heading toward accounts payable.” Businesses are not exempt from scam attempts. In fact, they are increasingly becoming targets. And to stay ahead of the game, you as a business owner need to be on your toes. Start by learning about some of the more common scams directed at businesses.


Phishing is an attempt to acquire sensitive information from a company via email by posing as a legitimate and trustworthy source. Even the BBB has been a target of phishing scammers who have used our trusted name to get to business owners. Common characteristics of these scam emails include misspellings and poor grammar construction, a general greeting to accommodate the bulk mailing, and a request for you to click on the embedded link, which will most likely download malware to grab account numbers, passwords, and other private information.

Best advice: Be suspicious of any unsolicited request for information or email.

False invoices

Scammers send invoices for products that companies buy on a regular basis such as toner, paper, and other common office supplies. The billing amount is usually not too large because a larger amount would raise suspicion, and since accounts payable personnel often assume someone in the organization must have ordered the items, the invoice is quickly paid along with other legitimate charges.

Best advice: Centralize your accounting practices so that ordering and accounts payable are properly cross-checked.

Overpayment scams

A “customer” calls your business wanting to place a very large order. He or she wants to pay with a credit card or check but has some reason for wanting to overpay, such as the need to pay cash to a third-party delivery company. However, the third party is actually a co-conspirator, and the credit card is stolen or the check is phony. By the time your accounting department figures this out, the overpayment amount has already been wired and you are out of luck.

Best advice: If a customer overpays, do not accept a check, and be sure to ask for the three-digit security code and customer service number on the back of the card.

Vanity awards

While we all appreciate the opportunity to be recognized for outstanding work, be aware that some awards are just moneymaking schemes with no actual merit.

Best advice: If you are approached about receiving a business or leadership award, investigate the organization and ask how you were nominated. Be especially cautious if you are asked to pay for the “award.”

Stolen identity

Just like individuals, companies are at risk for identity theft. The scammers may even go as far as posing as your company for the purpose of ripping off consumers.

Best advice: Just like you safeguard your personal identity, keep your business identity safe by shredding documents and safeguarding customer information.


Directory scams

A perennial problem that has plagued businesses for decades involves deceptive sales for directories. Commonly, the scammer will call the business claiming he or she just wants to update the company’s information or entry in an online directory. The business is later billed hundreds of dollars for listing services.

Best advice: Be cautious of all callers asking to update company information. Don’t pay an invoice for services you did not authorize, and investigate suspicious charges and invoices.

Regulatory compliance scams

Scammers are keenly aware that businesses work hard to comply with state and federal regulations. These scams include the sale of posters that may be required to be posted at your place of business. What you need to know, however, is that these posters are available from state and federal agencies at no charge. Scammers will also try to charge you for a required “state filing” that may not apply to your business, and if it does, it can likely be done for a fraction of what the scam artist is charging.

Best advice: Check with regulatory authorities when you receive anything official-looking in the mail. Know what is actually required of your business in order to be compliant.

Kimberly Hazen is the regional director of the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau.

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