As a small business owner, you should always be on guard against fraud, and now—given the upcoming July 15th tax deadline and general vulnerability created by the COVID-19 pandemic—you’ll want to be even more careful. Scams can become more prevalent in times of uncertainty, so it is important to remain vigilant. We’ve answered a few questions you may have about scams targeting small businesses, including ways to protect yourself and how to report suspected criminal activity.
Questions about coronavirus scams?
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What types of coronavirus scams should I be aware of?
The types of crimes are nothing new; criminals are simply using the pandemic as an opportunity to take advantage of people. Here are a few common COVID-19 scams to look out for as a business owner:
Impersonation of government agencies
Scammers may call or send text or email messages claiming to be from tax agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or even from public health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). Remember that these organizations most likely don’t have your email address, and even if they did, there is no reason for them to ask for your Social Security number or other sensitive financial information. If the IRS wants to correspond with you, it will generally be via postal mail, not by phone. If you have doubts and want to ensure that all is right with your taxes, contact the IRS yourself.
Fake charities or financial relief
While there are legitimate government relief programs meant to help small businesses survive the pandemic, fraudsters may promise donations, loans, or government money in exchange for an upfront fee or personal information. Generally speaking, you should not provide sensitive information to unsolicited callers. If you are seeking relief or looking to donate and want to verify an organization’s validity, thorough online research can be effective.
Business email scams
Employees may receive emails that appear to come from a superior, but which are actually fraudulent. The sender may request a transfer of funds or the disclosure of sensitive information. In other cases, the email may look like it’s coming from your IT department, asking for a password or prompting the reader to download a piece of software. In both cases, you should warn staff of this type of security breach quickly to ensure that no one on your team falls victim. In general, it is a good idea to train all staff on safe Internet browsing and email usage, especially if your employees are working remotely.
PPE or testing kit scams
This type of scam involves a fraudulent actor attempting to sell personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks or COVID-19 testing supplies that are either counterfeit or don’t actually exist. As a best practice for safe online shopping, you typically want to ensure that you have a secure web connection where the URL starts with “https” and that the website uses valid trust seals. Be wary of any products that claim to prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19. Generally speaking, it is wise to give your banking and credit card information to trusted vendors only. If an offer appears too good to be true, there’s a chance that it is.
What should I do if I suspect fraudulent activity?
First of all, if you do receive an unsolicited email or text message that appears fraudulent, do not click on any links or open any attachments. These could expose your network to malware. If you’ve already given away sensitive information unknowingly, it could be a good idea to freeze your credit so that new accounts can’t be opened. Of course, you also may need to contact your bank and creditors to alert them of any potential fraud.
Aside from staying vigilant on your own, make sure that your entire staff understands and can recognize the telltale signs of potentially fraudulent activities. Revisit your Employee Handbook, updating it where necessary to make sure it has current information about data security and the protocol for breaches.
If you receive an email, text message, or phone call that you suspect is fraudulent (or spot a suspicious website), you can report it directly to the Department of Homeland Security at email@example.com.
Get help when you need it
This is already a challenging time for small businesses, so be sure to stay vigilant to avoid further financial disruption. Make sure you understand your options for government relief and get legal help when you need it. If you have any legal questions or concerns as a result of COVID-19, ask a lawyer for free in the Coronavirus Legal Center for Business.