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The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on small businesses in the U.S., and many have been forced to limit operations or even close down in the ensuing economic crisis.
On top of that, cybercriminals have ramped up efforts to scam consumers and small business owners, exploiting their vulnerability and possible desperation for their own personal gain. If you're a business owner, here are five steps you can take to avoid the potentially devastating impact of these scams.
1. Be Diligent With Emails
If you or any of your partners or employees receive an email from outside your organization, check the email address and any embedded links before you click on anything. Also, never open an email attachment unless you can verify it's coming from a trusted source.
Doing this can help prevent your business from falling prey to what are called phishing attacks. These attacks usually come in the form of an email or text message that appears to be from a reputable source and that tries to exploit you in several ways.
A phishing email may contain links and attachments that infect your computer or phone with malicious software, which could allow criminals to steal your personal and financial information. Or, a fraudster may try to trick you into entering personal information and passwords on a website they control but have made to look like one you're familiar with.
Even if the email looks like it's coming from within the organization, it may still be a good idea to double-check the email address. That's especially the case if the email is labeled as urgent and asking you to wire or transfer money to an account outside of the organization.
If you're skeptical of any communication you receive, don't reply and instead reach out to the company yourself so you can make sure you're talking to a legitimate representative.
2. Ignore Offers for SBA Loans
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act included relief for businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program and via Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Unfortunately, these programs have seen delayed funding or have limited applications, and some business owners may feel desperate to get relief.
Taking advantage of this vulnerability, scammers have reached out to business owners over the phone or via email or text with an opportunity to apply. After you complete the application, in which you'll be asked to share personally identifiable information, you may be asked to pay a processing fee, which can be in the thousands of dollars.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) does not individually reach out to small business owners to offer disaster loans and grants, so that's a clear sign that anyone posing as the SBA with an offer is a scammer. If you've received a message or phone call from a lender regarding the Paycheck Protection Program, it may be legitimate. However, make sure to check the email address or phone number and call the lender directly to verify it's not a scam.
3. Safeguard Video Conferences
As businesses have moved toward having employees work remotely to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, video conferencing services including Zoom have become a popular method as a method to continue daily meetings and activities.
Unfortunately, Zoom had some security issues that some were able to exploit, and "zoombombing" became a trend. Unauthorized users managed to access video meetings through publicly available links. From there, they used the screen share function to show inappropriate images or even send malicious software through the file transfer feature.
Fortunately, Zoom has since made improvements to its security, automatically enabling a waiting room, where attendees remain until they're approved by the meeting host. The host can also lock the meeting after everyone who's supposed to be there has arrived and can also disable screen sharing, chat and the ability to change names.
Make sure your software is up to date, and take advantage of these new features to keep your work meetings safe and secure.
4. Be Wary of Unknown Suppliers
As consumers self-isolate in their homes and businesses limit hours or the number of people allowed in the store at one time, many essential items have become difficult to find.
To exploit this demand, scammers have set up websites, sometimes even mimicking the look of reputable retailers, to supposedly offer much-needed supplies. These purported retailers don't actually have the supplies they claim to, and you'll likely never hear from them again once they get your payment information.
As always, it's best to shop online only with well-known retailers. If you're not familiar with an online business, do your research to see if you can verify its trustworthiness. If what you find is inconclusive the business has no real online presence at all beyond its own website, steer clear.
5. Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Even if you're proactive about protecting your information, it's possible that another company you work with—such as a vendor or service provider—may experience a data breach and your information may be compromised.
Two-factor authentication makes it so you can't log in to important online accounts without providing your login information and a special code, which is typically provided via email, text, phone or through a third-party authentication app.
By setting up this extra security measure, you can keep scammers from accessing your personal and financial accounts even if they've managed to gain access to your passwords. Also, make sure you and everyone on your team uses a unique password for each of their accounts. A secure password manager like LastPass or 1Password will help you keep track of them and avoid writing them down or storing them in a word processing document.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Coronavirus scams add insult to injury, and falling victim to one can devastate your business. However, most of these scams are relatively easy to spot if you're paying attention.
Take some time to understand how each scam works and what you can do to spot them. If you have business partners or employees, share the same information with them to help them also be proactive about prevention.
This preparation can help reduce potential fear or stress you may be feeling about dealing with scams on top of everything else and make it easier to focus on more important aspects of keeping your business safe until things return to normal.