As a fledgling small business owner, you have a lot of potential and promise. You may not be aware, but you also are prey to a growing E-commerce scamming ecosystem.
As soon as your business is listed, as soon as you order one business-related product, you enter a digital database headlined, “SUCKER.”
Be hyper vigilant. And don’t fall for any so-called “sweet deals” because they don’t exist. Refuse to share proprietary business goals. Finally, protect all business and personal information.
Every day, I am spammed with dozens of emails lauding super special offers, JUST FOR ME.
And the phone rings roughly every hour with irritating recordings of exaltation.
"Congratulations!" the robotic voices say. "You have just won a special lottery. You are now free to purchase the latest DYI 4.0 small business software that will get you listed on the NY Stock Exchange. All this for a mere cost of, can you believe it, $199 a year. And, for your convenience, the rate is locked in to renew automatically. So, unless you remember to shut it off and can recall the complex 18-digit code we send, it will renew and charge to your credit card, year after year. Oh yes, so very convenient.
To date, when these folks are non-robots and I have had time to answer the phone, I’ve been courteous, figuring they are fellow small business types.
But this week, I changed my strategy because of three suspicious situations in as many weeks. Now I let the phone ring, unless I know who is calling. And since I have caller ID, it’s easy to do. And guess what? Rarely is a message left.
Here is a rundown of the situations; unfortunately, I’m certain one or two will sound familiar to you:
In Scenario #1, I checked a box on Facebook regarding a women’s nationwide volunteer networking organization. Yes, the word “volunteer” pulled me in. I assumed, from the ad, that this network would help me connect with other businesswomen and therefore help me expand my business. No contact goes unnoticed, right? No fees were mentioned, although I figured something minimal would be involved.
A few days later, I received a call from a women purporting to be with this organization. She asked me all sorts of questions, some personal. That should have been my first clue.
Then, after an exhaustive interview - during which time I told her to just check my LinkedIn page if she needed that much information - she announced: “Congratulations! We have determined that you have the proper credentials to join our national organization. You have been accepted into our exclusive and exceptional network.”
And, she continued, “for only $989 a year, I’d love to offer you our premiere welcome packet.”
Or, she added quickly, “for only $789 a year, I can offer you a less expensive welcome packet. But I really recommend the premiere packet because if you get just one new client, it pays for itself. And that makes the price worth it.”
I pressed her on the difference between the “premiere” and “the less expensive” options and she couldn’t articulate any real distinctions. Which I found puzzling.
The more we talked, however, the more options she revealed. Turns out, there was the $429-a-year package, the $199-a-year offer and the special, low, low introductory rate of $99 per year for skinflints.
But again, she could not explain the differences between/among any of these memberships and why the pricing was tiered.
She did stress, repeatedly, that the premiere path would give rise to a printed profile about myself. I felt like telling her to check Google. Got lots of profiles going there.
The phone conversation finally ended with me saying, “No.”
In Scenario #2, I responded to an email from what appeared to be a legitimate online email saying their company had determined that I was “eligible” to receive ”special” business leads in my area. The next day, I got a phone call.
I was asked a lot of questions and told, “Congratulations! We will send you our welcome packet. Now all we need are the last four digits of your Social Security number to do a background check.”
"Would you mind giving me the last four digits of your Social Security number?"
Why, yes I would. Look, I said, I’m sure you’re a nice person, but I don’t know you, have never heard of your group and don’t understand why I need to undergo a background check for a welcome packet.
She persisted, saying it would “speed up the process.”
Got that right, I thought. The process of identity theft.
So again, I said, “No.” Undeterred, she promised to call the next day with information about how I could get the special welcome packet without revealing any portion of my SSN.
Guess what? No call back.
Scenario #3: When I was in the media, I never took telephone opinion polls. But it was late in the day, my defenses were down, and the person on the phone sounded nice and seemed to be interested in the changing world of media.
She wanted to know what newspapers I read and how often.
"The Washington Post."
You read The Washington Post every single day? (As if it were a misdemeanor or something.)
"Yes. I really do. I have home delivery."
What about The New York Times?
So you’re telling me that every single Sunday, you read The New York Times?
"Yes, that is what I am saying." At this point I wondered if were being punked by some prankster former reporter of mine.
Do you get your news from any other source?
Good, she said, that’s what we like to hear.
So much for unbiased, scientific polling.
Lessons: Be careful out there, folks. These people sound legitimate, are sophisticated in language and approach and initially seem to have reasonable answers to most questions.
However, key buzzwords are give-aways: Congratulations. Welcome packet. Premiere. A few moments of your time. This is being recorded for training purposes.
No one needs to know your SSN, unless you being hired as a new employee.
And since when did “welcome packets” come with astronomical annual fees?
These are shake-downs, cleverly disguised, aimed at startups and small businesses.
So stay alert. Be aware. And never be shy about just saying, “No.”
When in doubt, leave the lot of them out.