How Small Businesses Can Fight Fraud in Uncertain Times

Fraudsters are working to exploit a surge of confusing information and the dramatic increase in people working from home. Learn to spot their attempts and avoid falling for them.

The world looks very different these days. In addition to creating major health concerns, the coronavirus is changing how we do just about everything. This includes how you run your business.

Aside from cash flow and operations, there’s something else to keep an eye on: Scammers and cybercriminals using this situation to prey on your business. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has warned business owners to prepare for the creative ways that fraudsters are using the crisis to target small businesses.

Read up on the new types of scams you could be facing and teach your employees to scrutinize and spot fraudulent messages—before they fall for them.

 

Communications from the Small Business Administration (SBA)

Many businesses are seeking financial relief through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other options, so they’re on alert for communications that might be helpful.

If you haven’t yet applied for any relief, know that the SBA does not charge a fee for loan applications nor do they initiate contact for 7a or Disaster loans or grants.1, 2 Cybercriminals might even try to mimic official SBA emails by including things like the SBA logo and using language from their website.2 Be skeptical if you are contacted by someone who:

  • Claims to be from the SBA
  • Asks for personal information
  • Guarantees approval of an SBA loan for an upfront fee or payment
  • Charges an application fee 
  • Offers a high-interest loan

Avoid a scam by applying through a trusted, eligible lender. If you have any questions, call the SBA’s Answer Desk at 800-827-5722 or email answerdesk@sba.gov.

Communications targeting employees

In addition to scammers leveraging the economic environment for their misdeeds, they’re also taking advantage of people working from home, where they're unable to verify things in-person. Coach employees to spot fraudulent requests like:

  • A manager asking for donations to a supposed charity for COVID-19 victims
  • HR requesting personal information to make updates to the system
  • Someone asking that money be wired, funds transferred, or gift card codes shared. All requests should be verified against documented vendor payment information.
  • The IT department asking for a password or instructing them to download software

Keep in mind that communication isn’t just limited to emails. The Federal Trade Commission reports there is an innocent-sounding robocall scam that is targeting small businesses. If caught off guard, someone could mistake it as legitimate.3

Educate and prepare your team

Although you and some of your team might be hyper-aware of fraudulent activity, if possible, organize a refresher training for everyone, including yourself. This could be as simple as going over a documented cybersecurity plan(opens in a new tab) or hiring a professional to create a training tailored to your needs. Also, create a verification policy and let your employees know who they should confirm requests with. Emphasize:

  • Looking for the signs that an email asking for information is fake. If it’s in regard to a loan application, you should check for an application reference number that matches your records.
  • Not responding to unsolicited emails, clicking links they contain or downloading anything that’s attached. Be especially mindful of emails that directly prey on pandemic fears, such as those disguised as updates from health organizations or false details from airlines regarding cancellations and refunds.  
  • Reporting suspicious activity to the FTC(opens in a new tab) or the Better Business Bureau(opens in a new tab) so they can investigate and warn other businesses

In our current environment, it’s understandable for anyone to get distracted during the day and become vulnerable to a scam. On top of that, emergency requests that would have seemed unlikely in the past might not seem as suspicious now. Reinforce the importance of cybersecurity in your business and make sure your team feels supported and empowered to stay safe.

1 "Resources for Small Businesses Impacted by the Coronavirus," April 15, 2020, Accion

2 "SBA Programs - Scams and Fraud Alerts," March 31, 2020, U.S. Small Business Administration

3 "Seven Coronavirus scams targeting your business," March 25, 2020, Federal Trade Commission

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The information provided is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. BB&T hopes you find this information useful but we cannot guarantee that it is accurate, up to date, or appropriate for your situation. You should consult with a qualified attorney or financial advisor to understand how the law applies to your particular circumstances or for financial information specific to your personal or business situation.

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