The tactics used by scam artists range from the classic to the high-tech. Here's a rundown of what to watch out for:
Fraudulent Charities: Within 48 hours of the September 11 terrorist attacks, reports of bogus charities claiming to collect for relief efforts began to surface. You can check out any charity before sending money by visiting the Web sites of watchdog groups such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the American Liberty Project, a cooperative effort between Amazon.com, AOL Time Warner, Cisco Systems, eBay, Microsoft and Yahoo! If you wish to donate to smaller, community-based organizations, which may not be listed on watchdog sites, you should get information in writing and request references. Another tactic: Check the charity's Web site domain through the WHOIS function at Network Solutions to find out who registered it and whether the name on the registration matches the name of the charity. If it doesn't, you should be suspicious.
90# Scam: In this scenario, callers who claim to be telephone company representatives ask the receptionist to dial 90# to test the phone. On many systems, this allows a third party to then make calls on your dime. Some variations include callers asking to be transferred to extension 90 or 900. Tell your employees: When a caller asks for 90#, hang up.
809 Scam: Beware of urgent letters or e-mails demanding you call a number in the 809 area code. Originating in the Caribbean, these 809 numbers are often "pay per call," much like 900 numbers in the United States, and may cost you up to $25 per minute. While some 809 numbers are legitimate, make sure to check the origin of any unfamiliar area code before you dial it. You can use the listings of U.S.-based area codes found in most telephone books, or call your long distance provider for information.
Voice-Mail Access Scams: The remote access features of Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems can be cracked by hackers--who can then run up thousands of dollars in long-distance charges in a short period of time. Monitor phone bills closely and change the authorization numbers often.
Dummy Invoicing: According to Ron Berry, senior vice president of bureau affairs for the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc. in Arlington, Virginia, fake invoices still rake in big bucks for scam artists. Your business may receive a "look alike" invoice for a product or service that it regularly orders, such as local media or Yellow Pages advertising. Thinking the bogus bill is valid, you may pay it. Berry reminds entrepreneurs to set up systems for invoice verification and approval.
Toner Phoners: An employee, usually an assistant or receptionist, gets a call from a company posing as your office supply provider. The scamster asks him or her to verify the make and model of your copier, then sends inferior and overpriced supplies that were never ordered, using the employee's name and the acquired copier information as proof of the order. Your company is billed an exorbitant price, and the scamster uses high-pressure tactics, such as the threat of legal action or a collection agency, to get paid. Rooker says this scam is rampant and that you should tell employees never to answer questions about your company's equipment over the phone.
Hot Opportunity--or Scam?
Before you write out a check to a seemingly lucrative franchise or business opportunity, make sure you've done your homework by fully researching the company. Read these how-to articles for more information:
- Entrepreneur's Guide to Franchising
- How to Research a Business Opportunity
- 10 Warning Signs of a Shady Opportunity