Halloween is this weekend (Can you believe it is here already? How time flies!), so to celebrate grab yourself a candy bar, a bag of minis, or a nice healthy apple, and then dig in to this mixed bag of small business tricks and treats. The tricks are common scams, phishing emails, bogus offers, and other lurking threats designed to take advantage of your trusting nature and/or catch you with your guard down. The treats are truly useful free resources that come with no strings attached, and that will help you run a successful small business.
Note: If you’re a Small Business Tip of the Week regular, you’ll recognize some of these from past posts.
The following tricks snare even the most savvy small business owners. Forewarned is forearmed, so be on the lookout for these scams throughout the year.
Phishing is a type of Social Engineering that tries to trick you into compromising yourself and/or your company. It can take the form of malware-infected email attachments. It can also take the form of links to spoofed websites designed to directly steal credentials or to install malware that infects first the victim computer, and then spreads to the rest of the company network, potentially giving a hacker complete access and complete control.
Phishing threats are a common Tip of the Week topic, as it seems scammers are coming up with new ones every day. The following video, originally published as part of A Phishing Scam in Action, is both cautionary and instructive.
Note that this example was done in a controlled environment specifically created to engage the hackers. You should NEVER do this yourself, and you should NEVER engage with hackers or let any untrusted person take remote control of your computer.
iPhone 7 Test Scam
The Better Business Bureau recently reported a surge in this common scam type—offering something for free and collecting your credit card information to pay for shipping of the “free” item. In this variation, you are informed that you have been “randomly” selected to test the iPhone 7. To participate you’ll need to complete a short survey, and will receive a free iPhone 6 as compensation. The survey seems legitimate, asking you about your iPhone use, but ends with asking for your credit card information. If you provide it, you don’t get an iPhone 6, you don’t get to test the iPhone 7, but thieves do get your credit card information to use fraudulently as they please. Don’t fall for this trick! If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
If you’re a small business owner you probably receive several emails each day offering your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services, and making grandiose promises like guaranteeing to get your website to show up in the first page, or first spot, of organic Google Search results. You probably receive many more than you see, as most of them will end up in your SPAM filter. If you have a contact form on your website, you probably receive a number of such offers via that form too. Many of these offers claim to have studied your website and dangle “free” reports as enticements to engage.
While it might be tempting to spend a small sum for such spectacular results—after all you may think, if it doesn’t work you won’t be out much, but if it does you’ll be in the chips—don’t. The tactics these “firms” employ may end up getting your site penalized in, or even removed from, search engine results. Reputable SEO companies don’t make guarantees of top position, and they also don’t offer quick-fixes, they know that a successful SEO program takes careful planning, and strategic execution.
For examples of many types of SEO scams, and an explanation of why they are not legitimate, read Don’t fall for small business SEO scams. This post, written by of all people someone who runs a legitimate SEO service, includes actual emails and form posts sent to the author “informing” her that there are serious SEO and backlink problems with her website and offering to solve them. Go figure!
Note: If you are truly interested in implementing an SEO program for your small business website, check out the SEO Blog Series on the PaySimple website. Start with SEO Basics: What it is and Why it’s Important for Your Business, then move on to Get Started with SEO in 4 Steps, and finish with Technical SEO Fundamentals for Your Website.
Fake Customer Service Numbers
According to an August report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), scammers are taking a two-pronged approach to impersonating official customer service lines. The first line of attack involves scammers purchasing 800 numbers and promoting them as official customer service lines so that they rank highly in search engine results. A rushed or unwary caller may just pick the first number in the results and call, rather than making sure they have an official number. The second line of attack involves the scammers purchasing 800 numbers that are very close to the actual customer service numbers, and then promoting them as described above, and taking advantage of people who misdial.
The BBB report highlights this scam in relation to credit card customer service numbers, but it is also commonly used to trick people into calling fake technical support lines (which results at best in unnecessary charges, and at worst in identity theft and a seriously infected computer), as well as any other type of company service line that will enable thieves to trick you out of passwords, financial account numbers, and other sensitive personal information. To protect yourself always double-check to make sure you have an official number, for example by typing in the url for the official company website or by dialing the number on the back of your credit card.
Think back to the last time you got a new computer for your small business. It probably contained all the software you ordered, plus lots of other programs you didn’t. Some might be things you want, like a one year subscription for Antivirus software, and some might be silly things you have no use for like toolbars that takeover your browser. Sometimes there is so much of this “free” software that it seriously impairs the performance of your brand new computer.
That’s why this type of “extra” is called “crapware,” “bloatware” or “shovelware.” It is not onerously prevalent on most computers bought directly from the manufacturer (such as Dell or Apple), but it is extremely common on low-price PCs bought in retail stores like Walmart or Best Buy. It’s there to help manufacturers make small profits off each installation which in turn enables them to offer super-low prices that consumers demand.
One way to combat crapware is to have your own version of Windows, and use it to do a fresh installation on any retail PC you buy for your business. Another way is to find and uninstall all the crapware. A recent PC Magazine post, How to Clean Crapware From a New PC, walks through the process one editor went through to clean a PC his 75 year-old father bought at Walmart. In addition to being astounded at the sheer number of crapware apps that came on the computer, you’ll get valuable tips on how to de-crap a PC, as well as get pointed to some very useful software that can help.
Note: Crapware is not just bundled with PCs. It also comes with many free (and useful) software applications that can be downloaded from the Internet. As with computer vendors, including crapware as part of a free application installation package helps the developer offer the useful application for free. That’s why it is very important to look closely at all installation (and uninstallation!) screens, use custom options to see exactly what is being added/removed, and de-select any boxes that authorize installation of unwanted applications.
Wire – Fraud Scam
At the beginning of this year the FBI issued a warning about a Business E-mail Compromise (BEC) scam, which largely targets businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments. The attacks can take many forms, with the ultimate goal of getting an unsuspecting employee to wire money to a scammer’s (typically foreign) bank account. They often employ common social engineering techniques like phishing and vishing, and typically begin with the scammer impersonating a high ranking manager at a company and directing a lower level employee to wire the money. Often some sort of legitimate looking, but bogus, invoice is used to make the request look like a standard wire request.
According to the FBI, between October 2013 and December 2014 there were 1,198 US businesses victimized with total losses in excess of $179 million. The following is an example of this type of fraud in action:
With all the tricksters and scammers out to get you, it is encouraging to know that there are just as many people and businesses offering tools designed to help your small business succeed. The following are some of them.
Free From Google
Yes Google is a highly profitable company that largely makes its money off paid search. But, the company is smart enough to know that only successful companies can afford to pay for search advertising. So, it offers many free and extremely useful tools that are truly designed to help businesses of all sizes. Here are just a few from which every small business can benefit.
- Google My Business
Complete the Google My Business process (which includes verifying your business), to get your company information included in Google search results, maps, and Google+. The listing is completely free, and you can include your business contact information, location, hours, description, and photos as well as selecting a primary and up to 9 additional categories. Google will display your business information in search and map search results, as it deems relevant.
- Google Search Console (Previously Webmaster Tools)
If you have a small business website (if you don’t see this post), you need the free Google Search Console suite (previously called Webmaster Tools). Using these tools you can communicate with Google about your site, and more importantly you can get a glimpse into how Google is treating your site in search results. It will even help you determine if your website has been compromised, and help you to fix the problem. (See previous tip post How to Recover from a Hacked Small Business Website for details.) Google provides comprehensive help on how to use Search Console, but also check out Search Engine Watch’s post for a helpful primer.
- Google Analytics
Like Search Console this Google suite is designed to help your small business optimize its paid search (PPC) and free search (SEO) programs, as well as to track user experience on your website and create better customer interactions. Google Analytics enables you to measure sales and conversions, and also provides insights into how visitors find and use your site so that you can maximize engagement and return visits.
- Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Forms
This cloud-based productivity suite from Google can replace common office suites such as Microsoft Office. Drive provides free cloud storage for your files, and enables anywhere access as well as collaboration options. The other applications enable you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentation slides, and design forms. The Google apps support common extensions such as .doc and .xls so that you can use them to work with any files others using different applications may provide. You can also download and share any files created via the Google apps.
New Business Wizard
If you’re thinking of starting a new business, whether or not you have a successful small business already, the New Business Wizard from BusinessUSA is a great place to start. Answer the short set of questions about the business you have in mind, provide the zip code for your primary business location, and the Wizard will compile a set of resources specific to your plans. You’ll get general business planning resources, as well as links to applicable state and local laws, rules, and forms, and industry specific articles that may be helpful.
Free Business Plans and Templates
Whether you’re just starting your business, expanding your existing business, or meeting new challenges, this set of business templates from Entrepreneur will help you document every step of the process. Categories include business plans, finance, human resources, management, legal, marketing, operations, technology and more.
Free Stock Images
The right image is critical to everything from websites, to promotional email, to print advertisements, blog posts, and sales presentations. Unfortunately the search for truly free images that you can use without attribution in any commercial project is wrought with red-herrings that lead to unprofessional clip art with upsells to paid images. The following sources provide a great selection of professional images that are truly free.
- Pixabay: Photos, vectors, and illustrations. Be sure to stay in the free section. There are a number of paid images available here as well.
- FreeImages: Photos, textures, and patterns in 26 categories. Again, be sure to stay in the free section.
- Unplash: This site offers a small selection of high-quality decidedly un-stockish photographs. 10 new images are added every 10 days.
Free Business Courses
You are never too old to learn, and with a number of self-paced courses, you are probably not too busy either. Free business courses from Coursera are taught by professors from prestigious universities including Wharton, Duke, and the University of Pennsylvania. Topics range from general business foundations to more specialized courses in strategy, business writing, and management. In most cases, you can fully participate for free, including taking quizzes and submitting projects, joining group discussions, and receiving a certificate of completion.
Free Job Postings and Resume Search
While there are many available resources for promoting your job posting, and for searching resumes to locate prospective hires (LinkedIn being chief among them), most popular options require you to pay something to get any useful access or placement. One exception is Indeed. You can post your openings for free, and you can search their database of over 180 million resumes for free.
Free Chat Application
As discussed in a previous tip post, Smart Chat for Small Businesses, chat applications can help improve internal productivity as well as enhance customer interactions. The free version of Slack provides sufficient functionality, flexibility, and security for most small businesses at an optimal price.
Free Online Scheduling Software
If your small business needs scheduling software for booking appointments and/or managing staff hours, then PaySimple’s own BookSimple application may be just what you need. (Please excuse the self-promotion, but this is a really useful free application.)
Designed with the busy small business owner in mind, the free BookSimple application provides a full-featured schedule management suite that includes an appointments calendar, a customer-facing online booking site custom branded for your company that enables your customers to schedule and change appointments at their convenience, and an integrated administration portal that enables you to tack and manage customer activity, maintain and update a catalog of services, manage your staff and their schedules, and review an extensive portfolio of automated email messages. Plus, the entire application is Mobile optimized so that both your customers and your staff can schedule on the go.
Free Conference Calls
No matter how much you would like to, as a busy small business owner you just can’t make every meeting in person. Enter the conference call. Whether you use them to connect with customers and prospects, or to collaborate with a telecommuting or geo-diverse team, conference calls make group communication easier. And, while a three-way call can meet some needs, a professional service provides significant value allowing document and screen sharing, large numbers of simultaneous participants, call recording, and even specially designed mobile apps.
There are a number of options for conference and collaboration calling services. For a basic free (advertising-supported) service that enables up to 10 participants on the call try Uberconference. Or, upgrade to their professional service for $120 per year for a truly seamless conference experience that gets rid of some common annoyances like the need for a PIN to enter a conference, and the advertising.
As a final treat, watch this video (originally published in Tip post Why Sitting on Your Feet While On a Conference Call Is A Bad Idea, and Other Conference Call Tips ) for a humorous look at familiar problems with conference calls:
And with that, have a happy Halloween that hopefully contains far more treats than tricks!
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