New shipping scams are among the latest con tricks targeting small firms: Internet Scambusters #419
A new twist in shipping scams uses hijacked UPS and FedEx account details from business customers.
And, as if it isn't enough that the target firms have to pay the hijackers' bill (at least if they don't notice the crime), the crooks also use the victim company's good name to hoodwink consumers with advance payment scams.
We have the details in this week's issue, along with several more scams that target small businesses, including bogus food inspectors and schemes that charge companies for free or unnecessary services.
Time to get going...
Hijacked Accounts Lead to New Shipping Scam
In a previous article, A Widespread Convincing and Dangerous UPS Scam, we reported on shipping scams via email, using the names of FedEx and UPS, which ask recipients to click on an attachment that supposedly contains details of a shipment to them, when it actually contains a virus.
Now crooks have turned their attention to small business fraud by hijacking firms' UPS and FedEx accounts, which they then use for their own benefit, often for sending out fake advance payment checks and shipping drugs.
This means, of course, that there's no way of identifying the crooks, since the packages go out through the accounts of innocent companies.
In the case of bogus checks, the use of legitimate company accounts also helps the scammers in their efforts to convince recipients that the deal, in which they're supposed to wire money, is genuine.
Business account numbers may be printed on shipping labels, making them an easy target for the crooks.
In other cases, businesses actually post their account details online for employees and others who genuinely need to use them.
Or crooks may simply hack their way into business computer systems with poor security and steal the information there.
The crime offers a double lesson to both companies and consumers.
For businesses, it underlines the need to protect this vital piece of information and to closely monitor accounts from the shipping companies (which do normally reimburse fraud victims).
For consumers, it emphasizes the value of being skeptical that anything you receive actually comes from the purported sender. And, as we always stress, you should never wire money to someone you don't know.
If you receive a check with such a request, you can be pretty near certain it's a scam.
According to the Chicago Tribune, which recently reported a rise in the incidence of this crime, both UPS and FedEx advise customers to "vigilantly guard their account numbers."
The two shippers also confirmed that they do investigate all fraud complaints and work closely with law enforcement.
Bogus food inspectors
Small business scam artists love to target restaurants -- busy locations, often with inexperienced staff and plenty of members of the public milling around.
Latest tricks include crooks posing as food inspectors. In the past, they've imposed on the spot fines, but, in a new twist, the scammers phone and ask an employee or owner to "confirm" business information, ahead of a scheduled visit (which, of course, never takes place).
The motive isn't clear but law enforcement officials say the aim may be to set up bogus business identities for online trading.
As restaurateurs should know, food inspections don't work this way and inspectors never seek confidential business information over the phone.
Paying for free or unnecessary documentation
In this small business scam, websites offer a pay-service to supply official documents and services like state business registration and a Federal Employer Identification Number, both of which are usually free from state governments and the IRS respectively.
They may also offer sales tax certificates, even for states that don't have a sales tax! Some states do charge a small fee for these certificates but, again, you should check with the state rather than trying to buy from a third-party agency.
In fact, for all business documentation, your three best sources of information are government offices, the IRS and, at least as a starting point, your local Chamber of Commerce.
Phony contractor license renewal
Most states require contractors to hold and display a license (different from the simple registration service mentioned above), renewable annually.
Since these licenses are public documents, it's a short step from this legal requirement for scammers to send out bogus renewal notices, as reported recently in South Carolina.
The notices look like official state demands but the payment addresses don't tally with the real ones -- usually, they're out of state.
Action: When your license is due for renewal, check the address and confirm it's the same as that on the previous year's license. If in doubt, contact your state Labor Department.
Better Business Bureau accreditation
Accreditation with the Better Business Bureau may be regarded as a kind of stamp of approval. Knowing this, scammers posing as BBB employees visit small businesses offering to sell them accreditation certificates.
They popped up in Washington State recently, soliciting business door-to-door. In a couple of instances, they also invited victim companies to enter an "official BBB lottery."
The local Puget Sound Business Journal quoted a BBB spokesperson saying: "Better Business Bureau does not have a lottery and does not solicit door-to-door."
Action: Check out the credentials of anyone who contacts you claiming to be from the BBB by contacting the bureau's local office -- details in the phone book.
Pay to be in the running for official contracts
Finally, a quick and easy small business scam for all firms to watch out for.
Here's how it works: You get a call supposedly inviting your company to be a candidate to provide a product or service at City Hall (or the police or some other local authority).
To get on the short list, however, the scammer wants you to pay a fee, usually around $100.
The scammers may have set up a bank account with an official sounding name to which you have to send payment. They clear it out before their con comes to light.
Action here is simple: Don't pay charges to get on a short list. Governments don't work this way.
For more information on common business scams, please see these earlier issues.
And whether you're in business or a consumer on the receiving end, please watch out for those shipping scams.
That's a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a great week!