Over the weekend, I received multiple text message stating I’d won free gift cards, shopping sprees, etc. All I had to do was click a link – from which I’m sure I’d have to provide certain personal information. One offered an option for responding “BLOCK”, which I did. The others, I simply deleted. Remember that whenever you’ve “won” a shopping spree, $500 gift card, or anything else for nothing, there’s a trap! Below is an article recently posted the following on KnowEmpowerNetwork, but it bears repeating here. Dr. Kavita offers a wealth of information on kick-starting your online business, working from home, increasing traffic to your blog, email marketing tips and other relevant guidance. I encourage you to check out her interesting and useful site.
AVOIDING ONLINE BUSINESS SCAMS
Ever heard that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is? For as long as I can remember, people have been jumping at get rich schemes and throwing money at opportunities that seem – well, too good to be true. When faced with any “opportunity” touting unbelievably easy; for a limited time only; risk-free investment; restricted to the first 200 participants; operators are standing by; your chance to get in on the ground floor; innovative marketing concept; or if it’s otherwise just unbelievably fabulous, STOP! Consider the following before acting, and by all means, don’t provide your credit card information or send any money in advance!
Historically, scams have been geared toward new business owners, those hoping for ventures offering easy money, and individuals with limited skills wanting to work from home. Examples include coin-operated laundry-mats, gumball machines, stuffing envelopes, email processing assignments (no one’s really going to pay you $25 for every email you send), craft assembly including toys and dolls, medical billing, or discount and coupon programs.
Beware programs requiring a “small upfront investment” to buy equipment or supplies which either never arrive, or are worthless when received. Multi-level (pyramid) schemes have always been popular, but are unethical if not illegal altogether. They require an initial investment to obtain the “products”. This is not to say that all such businesses are scams. There are many cosmetic, fragrance, home goods and other companies which market through individual representatives and are totally legitimate, while offering quality products. The point is, you simply have to do some research before getting involved with those enterprises that are NOT legitimate and only seek your hard-earned money.
The new generation of scammer preys on those desperate to save money by responding to online ads for financial, home security, or other services. We’ve all seen the email warning that our bank account is going to be suspended if we don’t sign in to reset our password. Note, however, that a bank will NEVER ask for your password under any circumstances. That’s why the bank sends you a link to reset your password entirely if you forget it – they don’t know it! So, don’t ever fall for anyone online asking for your password – it’s a SCAM! My favorite is the free alarm system for your home. Do you really want to give someone your name, address, place of employment, cell number and bank account info for debiting the monthly monitoring charge and confirm that you don’t have an alarm system in your home?
Scams can appear in your mailbox as promotional campaigns, offering a special gift in exchange for a little personal information. What could go wrong, right? Con artists collect bits of information here and there to learn a lot about their mark. You’d be amazed at the number of free vehicles, vacations and tablets I’ve won – all free! But alas, because I didn’t provide my personal information at the time of the call, I’ve never once been able to drive my new Dodge Durango to Cabo San Lucas while submitting an Internet fraud claim wirelessly on my new tablet! Where did I go wrong?
The next time you’re tempted with an irresistible online offer or fantastic bargain …
- Beware entering credit card information for hot gift items, which may be advertised on rogue/fake sites and social networks, when the goods are not actually available
- Never provide personal information to participate in a promotion or receive a “deep discount”
- Avoid downloading bonus features such as screen savers, ring tones, or gadgets which may contain malicious code designed to infect your computer to scrape personal financial information
- Beware of fake vacation rentals, particularly if no photos are included, and confirm the realtor site or individual offering the property for rent
- Never pay anything in advance until you are totally satisfied the company is legitimate
- Never respond to questions about home security, working hours, or members of the household
- Avoid the temptation of responding to “just a few simple questions” for anything online
GENERAL ONLINE SAFETY TIPS FOR EVERY OCCASION
- Don’t open links in email from sources you don’t immediately recognize, and don’t reply to the message – doing so gives the scammer access to at least some of your personal information
- If the email arrives in your spam folder, even if you recognize the company, right-click the message to view the source whenever possible
- Once satisfied that a company is legitimate, check to see where the browser is pointing before entering your credit card information, i.e., https:www.(site name).com/.net/.org/etc.
- Get all promises and claims of success in writing and require two to three references for verifying detailed information about business procedures, performance, or other aspects that only someone in that industry or having bought the goods/service could provide
- Never accept a cashier’s check for merchandise you sell online, particularly in exchange for your returning the difference (really?), as cashier’s checks are among the most highly counterfeited items for banks (and, just as good information, even cashier’s checks can be stopped by the issuing party)
- Check out reviews for unfamiliar companies before conducting business, including using the Better Business Bureau to check for unresolved complaints
- Report all incidents of scam and spam to Twitter, Facebook, or other sites immediately
- Listen to negative reviews found online or from your friends and associates
- Never provide personal information to anyone inquiring online about your financial condition
- Don’t open email regarding failed delivery attempts for mail or merchandise
- Don’t open email related to suspending your account, even if you bank with the named institution
- Visit online forums about reports on the business or offerings
- Check your social networking sites for negative comments about suspect enterprises
- Verify that you can actually reach a company representative to answer your specific questions
- Look at the company’s website, including customer reviews and look for BBB or trade association links – and then confirm their rating with the BBB on its independent site
EXISTING BUSINESS OWNERS BEWARE
Ever receive an offer to purchase the items you use every day online for less? It’s a simple scam which may involve paying a small member fee to get in on the terrific savings. In reality, your local office supply store generally has specials, promotions, etc. which are hard to beat – particularly if you order online and take advantage of free local delivery. And, if you receive an invoice for something you don’t recognize, don’t pay it until you confirm the merchandise was actually ordered and received in good condition. It’s amazing how many invoices are paid upon receipt when the merchandise was never even ordered.
SO, YOUR ONLINE BUSINESS CHECKED OUT? GREAT – TIME TO GET STARTED!
If you long to work from home or operate a storefront business, there are many free, legitimate resources to help you get there. First, spend the time to develop a business model – nothing complicated initially, but sufficient to promote your concept to lenders. Many small businesses fail because they lack the necessary funding to grow their business, or even sustain it. Answer the following – and be honest with yourself:
- What is it you really want to do?
- Are you mentally and physically prepared for the hours required to operate your own business? Bear in mind that when you’re not there, you’re not making money required to repay any loan taken to fund the venture. Owning your own business can be the most exciting thing ever, but new business owners are often unprepared for the reality of what it takes to be the person responsible for everything – all the time.
- Do you have an innovative product or service? Is it specific enough to capture your corner of the market? Or, would a better option be to consider a franchise in the industry you’re considering?
- Will you be purchasing or leasing your equipment? Each has distinct advantages.
- Have you considered an employee stock option to raise capital for a share of the business?
- If you’re purchasing an existing business, is the owner willing to finance a portion of the transaction?
- Before seeking start-up capital, be sure your personal finances are in order and know what’s in your personal credit report. You can order a free report annually at https://www.annualcreditreport.com to find out where you stand. Your credit score will cost about $8-10, but is totally worth it because creditors consider the score heavily in deciding whether to lend money. If your credit report contains errors, be sure to correct them before applying for a loan!
- The entities below are among those offering free advice on licensing requirements, business plans, selling/marketing techniques and financing options:
- Free Internet access and research on small business services may also be available through your public library and through “community technology centers” at local nonprofit organizations in your area.
- Contact your local Chamber of Commerce to inquire about small business incubators. Innovation Depot (Birmingham AL) is one example.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AVAILABLE RESOURCES
There may be non-profits in your community offering assistance to minorities, women, or immigrants for start-ups, including funding and counseling. These organizations sometimes also provide loans up to specified amounts, offering special incentives to new and burgeoning businesses. Some insurance companies even offer business loans, so you may want to inquire of your agent. Bear in mind that consumer finance companies generally offer higher rates, but serve as a resource for individuals with credit challenges. If you prefer to seek funding through a private lender, compare loan products between banks and credit unions. Also, check to see if your business site is in an Empowerment Zone or Enterprise Community which may qualify for certain incentives.
In any event, tell your lender all the details of your proposed venture so that you can identify the product which best meets your unique needs. Be sure to also ask whether the lender is in the Small Business Lending Fund, as participants tend to make more small business loans. Also, find out whether you or any partners will be required to contribute equity, which may include collateral, in order to qualify for the loan.
Once you’re on your way, take advantage of all resources available to you for keeping inventory, accounting and other business considerations on track to ensure success tomorrow and down the road. Join trade associations and local community groups, including the Chamber of Commerce. Networking is everything, whether looking for work or promoting your business. Finally, consider creating a website for your business – very easy today. There are numerous hosting companies with one-step processes for basically everything you need to get your site up and running.
Congratulations on your exciting new venture!
REPORT FRAUD & SCAM EVENTS – IT’S GOOD FOR EVERYONE!
The following entities stand ready to assist if you have been a victim, or are aware, of an online scam or fraud:
Federal Trade Commission, which offers a wealth of consumer protection information
Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, which offers a series of Consumer Alerts to guard against being defrauded
Federal Bureau of Investigation, offering timely information on common fraud scams
Or, contact your state’s Attorney General Consumer Affairs office for assistance if you have been a victim of a fraud, scam, or Internet business opportunity.