Don't get tricked by business honors scams - plus October cybersecurity campaign details: Internet Scambusters #1,085
Vanity honors - fake awards supposedly recognizing small firms' achievements - are not just meaningless; they could also damage your business reputation.
In this week's issue, we explain how to spot and avoid these simple but clever schemes.
Plus, we have details of October's Cybersecurity Awareness campaign and how you can help to spread education and understanding of online safety risks.
Let's get started…
Vanity Honor Scams + Cybersecurity Awareness Campaign
If you run any kind of small business, you're probably always on the lookout for ways to promote your products or services. Scammers know that and have just what you want: award-winning recognition, better known in the fraud world as vanity honors.
In simple terms, they trick you into thinking you've won some kind of award with a plaque or shield to display in your office or website. But, of course, you have to pay to get it.
It's just one more variation of a widespread bit of trickery, such as some business directories and book publishing activities. If you fall for it or even go for it knowingly, you're probably not breaking the law, but you could be misleading your customers and damaging your reputation.
Take the recent example of a shed builder who got an email saying he had been named "Best Shedmaker" in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But he would have to pay up to $1,500 for a plaque and other material. And there was no such award program.
He didn't fall for it, but the incident echoes a series of similar schemes reported by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
"We all seek recognition, and unfortunately people have been scammed by this for many years," a BBB spokesperson told CBS news.
"Last year it was brought up, and unfortunately a lot of Boston women were targeted. They were nominated and asked to pay an upfront fee to make it in as a runner-up, and people were paying the fee."
One reason is that these tricksters put together a very convincing story making the awards seem very prestigious and highly selective. Often, they mimic and use similar names to genuine awards programs.
Common vanity honors schemes play on the name of the legitimate "Who's Who" publication and well-known biographical and professional directories. They use impressive sounding awards like "Man of the Year" or "World's Leading Professional" and suggest the victims have been selected by a nominations committee.
How To Safeguard Yourself from Vanity Honors Scams
Naturally, it's good for business to be genuinely honored in your area of activity but it's best to be cautious and skeptical about any such notifications you receive. Here are some actions you can take to establish if it's genuine:
- Ask whoever notified you about how you were selected and who else took part, especially if you did not submit an entry for the award.
- Beware of any fee for promotional services. For example, a scammer might offer to prepare a media pack to publicize your supposed success, at a cost.
- Do your online research. Be skeptical of exaggerated claims about the honor's significance and prestige. Check for information about past honors awards and their promoters.
- Watch out for award names that are similar to well-known, legitimate honors programs.
- Bottom line: Don't pay. Legitimate awards, including those run in many local newspapers, don't charge recipients for the prestige of winning.
And don't be tempted to go along with the scam for the potential benefits of having a higher profile or better reputation. It will end in tears.
Ready for Cybersecurity Awareness Month?
October is Cyber Security Awareness Month - an educational campaign that's been running for the past 20 years, driven by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and CISA, a division of the US Department of Homeland Security.
The event brings together government, businesses, schools, and individuals to raise understanding and awareness of online security risks and the actions they can take to protect themselves. The theme will be "It's easy to stay safe online."
Key focus this year will be on passwords, multi-factor authentication, how to recognize and report phishing incidents, and cybersecurity in the workforce. Activities include a symposium bringing together industry experts and small business cyber readiness workshops. The campaign will also emphasize the importance of using security software and of keeping all programs and apps up to date.
Consumers and schoolchildren will have access to free education materials like presentations, newsletter content, and blogs from NCSA. Get more information on how to take part and access the educational materials.
You can also follow CISA on social media and post your own online safety tips with the hashtag #CybersecurityAwarenessMonth.
The organizers also encourage sharing tips with family and friends, and perhaps even holding a family "tech talk" to discuss how each family member can protect their devices, accounts, and personal information.
This Week's Alerts
Phone loan: Be ultra-cautious when someone you don't know asks to borrow your cellphone. A Milwaukee man recently lost $5,000 to a passer-by who asked to borrow the man's phone to text his mother. The scammer watched the man enter his pass code to activate the phone, then accessed his bank account using the same code, and stole the money.
The bank refused to refund the money to the victim because, they said, it was a legitimate transaction.
Students at risk: Some colleges have been tricking or misleading students who want to pay for their tuition by making multiple direct interest-free payments to them. The US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has accused some institutions of using confusing payment terms and then illegally withholding course transcripts if they fall behind with payments. Make sure you know and understand the terms of any payment agreement you strike with your college. For more, see CFPB Report Finds College Tuition Payment Plans Can Put Student Borrowers at Risk.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.