It seems that every day we hear about another scam and victims falling prey. Recently an IRS impersonation scam fooled thousands of victims into paying out more than a million dollars, thinking the IRS was calling them to collect taxes.
“This is the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen,” said J. Russell George, Treasury inspector general for tax administration, in a news release. “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and uses threatening language if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.”
More information about this particular scam can be found on the IRS website.
Sadly this is just one of many scams out there targeting consumers and business owners. I reached out to the Better Business Bureau of New England to find out about some of the common scams targeting small businesses and how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Paula Fleming, vice president of communications and marketing for the BBB, talked about a scam where business supply companies claim they are “going out of business” and need to unload their inventory. They reach out to small-business owners offering them a great deal to buy their goods.
The scam happens when they ship you more than you need or want and invoice you for the goods you received — often for thousands of dollars. Trying to negotiate with the scam artist “seller” becomes so difficult that many people just pay the invoice. Sometimes a business gets scammed because it’s not paying attention to its invoices and just pays.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is,” said Fleming.
The Better Business Bureau is also aware of scam artists pretending to be with the “Yellow Pages” and trying to sell ads.
Business owners are pressured to pay for advertising that never materializes.
“Do your research to ensure the ad is legit and refuse to pay the invoice until you have a contract and see the actual ad,” Fleming suggests.
The office of the Maine attorney general also provides information about common scams of which you should be aware. One involves “phishing,” in which an email that looks like it is coming from your bank or another institution you do business with asks you to verify your personal information.
“No matter how legitimate the message looks, never send personal information over the Internet unless you initiate the contact,” the attorney general recommends.
There are many more scams out there and new ones being invented every day. Fleming advises that the best way to protect yourself from becoming a victim is to “trust your gut if something doesn’t feel right.” Fleming also recommends contacting the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general with any concerns.
Other ways to protect yourself include paying close attention to invoices and training your staff to do so. Sometimes a business pays an invoice that looks legit when it’s not. Keep track of your spending and verify all invoices before you pay them.
Never respond to an email from your “bank” or other company with your personal information. Legitimate companies will not request this information by email. Contact the institution directly if you’re not sure.
If you do fall victim to a scam, first of all don’t beat yourself up about it. Scam artists are very good at what they do! Second, do report it.
Scammers aren’t going away and they’re only getting smarter and more sophisticated. You can outsmart them by paying attention, following your gut, asking questions and taking advantage of the many resources to protect you from getting “fooled” into becoming their next victim.