NNBW Editor: Business scams in the COVID era (Voices)
I’m embarrassed to admit it — and can hardly believe I’m even writing the words now because the thought alone makes me blush — but 10 years ago, I became the victim of an online scam.
Without going into too many details, I was duped by a fake listing for a used car I wanted to buy, and I ended up losing a good chunk of money I’d saved up because I didn’t do my due diligence.
In hindsight, I still find it inconceivable I was foolish enough to fall for it. A shady address in Washington state, a deal that seemed “too good to be true,” even glaring typos in the back-and-forth email correspondence — all the evidence was right in front of me.
But, alas, bamboozled I was.
I remember filing the report with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, and after I was done, the deputy very kindly told me that the odds of the case being resolved were basically zilch, and that “you probably should have checked before you sent the money.”
It didn’t get much more matter-of-fact than that. But hey, I was young, and I’ve since learned to chalk it up as a valuable life lesson.
A decade later, with what I know now about the proliferation of scams of all shapes and sizes online, via social media and even directly to our smartphones, I am always overly cautious on even the most routine of transactions.
I’m constantly updating my account passwords to complicated, symbol-filled gibberish; not saving any pieces of log-in information on websites I frequent; even ensuring I don’t access personal or credit card information while hooked up to the local coffee shop’s Wifi, because you can’t trust that it’s a secure network.
Fool me once, right?
Yet for every gift card scam, for every phony IRS “audit,” for every Nigerian princess who needs my help, I’ve come to learn that from a business perspective, the bar for which thieves reach to bilk people out of money gets higher and higher with each passing day, especially now that we’re amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
I check in with the Better Business Bureau on a fairly basis for various news updates on goings-on, and to learn about the latest flavor of the day in the world of scams.
By the way, if you’re unfamiliar, I encourage you to check out the BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/ScamTracker. Hopefully you never have to use it, but it’s a real-time tracker of the thousands of scams reported in the U.S. and Canada — for the first half of 2020 alone, the tracker reports a total of 21,767 scams of all shapes and sizes.
Below are just three examples of newly reported scams that could put you or your business in financial harm’s way, courtesy of the Better Business Bureau:
Preparing for coronavirus? That face mask could be a con
How the scam works: You want to buy a face mask for COVID-19 protection. But masks are sold out in your local stores and many major online sellers. So instead, you turn to purchasing masks from an online shop you don’t know.
Unfortunately, phony online stores abound — especially when an item is in high demand. According to reports from the aforementioned BBB Scam Tracker, phony sellers take victims’ money and never deliver anything all, often using tricks like limited time deals to entice you into ordering more.
According to BBB, one person reported ordering nearly $200 in masks and received no product or response from the seller: “I checked back a few times over the past week to see if there was updated information on a shipping date, but never got more information than that ‘the order was being processed.’”
Want a COVID-19 test? There’s a scam for that
How the scam works: You receive a robocall or are directed to a website that looks like a clinic or medical supply company offering COVID-19 tests that can identify if you’ve been infected. Some even promise results in 10 minutes. To get a test, all you need to do is complete a form or, in other versions, enter your credit card details.
In some cases, the procedure involves an easy at-home testing kit. Or, the tests are allegedly offered through a clinic. But, the “company” selling the test is short on details or not willing to provide information about how the test works, where it is sourced, and what laboratory processes it.
Hiring freelance help? Watch out for imposters
How the scam works: Your company is looking to save money after recent revenue tumbles due to COVID, so you hire a freelancer, like a software developer or graphic designer. You post the gig on a website, such as Upwork or Freelancer.com, where you can connect directly with independent contractors.
You find someone who looks perfect for the job. Great resumé and years of experience — and best of all, the person’s rate is far below what other similarly qualified people charge. So you hire … and pay a deposit up front. Your new contractor starts on the job like normal, but as the days and weeks pass, the project still isn’t finished. And then your freelancer stops responding to messages.
Unfortunately, this “ freelancer” is likely an impostor who steals photos and resumés of real contractors and posts them on freelancer sites. And here’s the bigger kicker — scammers like this may even contact freelancers directly and ask to use their profile in exchange for payment or promise of future work.
There are countless examples out there, both of business-related and personal scams. Take it from someone with (unfortunately) experience: Do your research, and if it seems too good to be true, it’s best to trust your instincts.
Kevin MacMillan is editor of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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