Beware of Scams That Target Small Businesses

Whenever my friends invite me to small eateries, I seriously but jokingly say, “I like to eat at places I know there’s a corporation I can sue if there’s a problem.” I occasionally make exceptions but this is my personal policy. You see, I went to business school and I find that my rudimentary knowledge of businesses has cause me to be somewhat overcautious. But, honestly, I’d rather be overcautious than sorry.

One of the trademarks of our current climate is distrust for large corporations and the tendency for people to take chances on newer, smaller businesses. One one hand, I wouldn’t have a business without a moderate amount of confidence in small businesses. But on the other hand, I have to vet who I use for not only my personal needs, but also my business needs.

I just watched a special on Hulu The Housewife & the Shah Shocker. To say the least, I am deeply disturbed. I will not speculate about whether Jen Shah is innocent or guilty. My concern is that I do my part to help spread vital awareness for small business owners.

As laid out in the Hulu/ ABC special, there are criminals who prey on the way people tend to trust small unverified sources. These people use the internet and the data you revel and allow access to against you.

In this time of social media influencers demonstrating they can get rich quick from selling products or even just their personality to get a music or acting career, malicious people pose as successful social media influencers, marketing experts, and successful business owners offering advice.

Twenty years ago, I could have never predicted the success and popularity of this gig economy. With the loss of inexpensive education, job security and pensions our grandparents had, people genuinely need work. Many work in terrible work conditions, have illnesses that limit their ability to work, or have childcare concerns that all affect their ability to work a 40 hour work week. Many desire to become successful quickly, quickly solve financial problems or change their  current situation. 

All of these lead to desperation.

This is what scammers prey on.

I have many friends like me who own small businesses in addition to or instead of working at a traditional job. It’s very likely I know someone who has been scammed.

What people don’t understand…what I didn’t understand is that the way people become victim to as scam is so much more complex than one scammer getting lucky and taking money from someone. It’s way more insidious.

You may simply apply for a work at home job or answer an ad for assistance building a website or pay someone who promises followers on social media or maybe you just post your idea or product online. Criminals spend whole work days trolling social media looking for people to target. They call it lead generation. (On that note, be careful answering ads to work as a lead generator. They pay well but you are at least a scammer that is providing information to criminals and at most, you will be asked to engage in criminal activity.) After you respond to one ad or pay for one service, they sell your information over and over to people who will relentlessly suggest goods and services to you. you may feel lucky that opportunities are falling into place for you. Before you know it, you are spending money you don’t have.

Investigators and prosecutors from the special say you should not feel ashamed. If one person reads this and sits down and reassesses how they are “building their business” or realizes that they are a lead generator helping to prey o others and stops, I will feel like I’ve helped.

 If you read this and or watch the special and still try these schemes thinking your outcome will be different, you should know you have done this to yourself.

So what can you do? 

Start your business knowing you will have to grind and build slowly. 

Make connections. 

-Ask friends and family to promote your business for you. 

-Ask friends and family if they can help or know people who can help with skills that you need but don’t have. (Don’t use online services. You have no idea who is on the other end.)

If friends or family suggests you use an online service or sends you an online ad for a service, or they suggest you get involved in a multi level marketing company in order to supplement your income, decline in a way that you feel comfortable.

If you post about your business or idea, don’t respond to social media comments that offer help. In fact, block them. They didn’t come upon your post by chance, they are searching the social media platform for “leads.”

These criminals prey on an environment like the one we are in. People trust small, unverified sources over big business. If you do decide to seek help with some aspect of you business building, use big corporations that are well known. But be careful- scammers use names that sound like familiar, stalwarts so that you believe their business is established, tried and true. As much as we’ve heard about how terrible Facebook is, you are more secure paying facebook directly to run ads rather than some small company that says they will run ads on Facebook. 

The last thing you must know- Once you have actively started to promote your new business, expect calls and emails…do not answer them. Get really used to sending unsolicited calls and emails to spam or and blocking them. Consider having a google number for your business and an email account just for your business. Regardless, do not answer emails or calls, return calls or clink on email links from companies you don’t know. If you think a contact is legitimate, google the phone number and call the company from the published phone number, don’t just “call back” the number that called you. For mail, I never trust the name that appears in the “from” field. I carefully click on the name (nothing else) and the email will reveal the full email address. If the email didn’t come directly from the server of the company that claim to be contacting you from, delete it.

PLEASE be careful.

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