It’s become something of a motivational speaker’s cliché to point out that the Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters: one meaning “danger” and the other meaning “opportunity.” That insight is meant to inspire leaders to seize the day and take bold action to guide their organization through tough challenges. Unfortunately, cheap opportunists have co-opted the saying and cynically advised that we “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” And apparently, armies of scammers have taken this advice, because we’ve seen a serious up-tick in fraudulent activity against businesses and individuals, inspired by the COVID-19 outbreak. At Breon & Associates, we spend a great deal of our time educating clients about the danger of fraud. We offer this brief article to help keep you safe during this critical time.
Currently, businesses are feeling the stress of lost revenue due to various measures to blunt the pandemic. You might be wondering how you can possibly retain your employees and keep the lights on. We all know that when we’re worried, we don’t make the best decisions, but nobody knows that better than the fraudsters, who are looking to capitalize on your vulnerabilities. Here are a few of the scams to look out for:
- Phony suppliers — If you’re in limbo because a supplier is out of the materials you need, you might be willing to take a gamble on an untested supplier. Scammers can put together authentic-looking websites to front their criminal operations. But submit an order and you may never hear from them again.
- Cold callers — Scammers aren’t sitting around waiting for you to come to them. Many will aggressively cold call businesses to dupe them into placing an order.
- Defective goods — Occasionally, one of these fraudsters will fill an order, but only with grossly substandard products. And there’s no limit to the depths to which these crooks will stoop. For example, in March of this year, international law enforcement arrested 121 alleged scammers across the globe who were selling counterfeit surgical masks, hand sanitizer and other COVID-19 protective products.
- Identity theft — If you pay for your business expenses with a credit card, one misuse of your card on a scammer’s website could cascade into a torrent of bogus charges.
- Google call same — This is a new twist on an old favorite. You get a call with a recorded message that says COVID-19-affected businesses must ensure their Google listing is correct. If you give a call back, someone will try to get you to pay for a service or provide confidential information.
On the consumer side, you might encounter one or more of these scams:
- Phishing emails — These are emails dressed up to look like official communications from reputable businesses. They have links that lure you to phony websites or install damaging malware on your computer.
- Phony COVID-19 information websites — If you are searching for health and safety information, make sure you go to a reputable source. Phony sites are springing up simply to seize your personally identifying information and/or invade your computer.
- Phony cures — When a reliable treatment or vaccine is developed, it will be headline news. Until then, don’t trust any source offering a miracle cure.
- Phony charities — Scammers often play on sympathies of kindhearted individuals. If you are moved to donate, contact a reputable organization and don’t fall for soundalike orgs.
- Work from home schemes — If you’ve been furloughed or have had your hours cut, promises that you can make big money working from home can be very appealing. Unfortunately, most of these scams require you to make a purchase upfront or turn over important identifying information, such as your Social Security number.
- “IRS” calls — Someone pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service might contact you with good news about tax breaks during this period. Or to demand a payment under penalty of arrest. Never make a payment by phone or give out information.
Whether you run a business or are just looking out for your personal interests, a healthy dose of skepticism can go a long way during this critical period.
Contact Breon & Associates in Harrisburg
If you want to learn more about fraud and your organization’s potential vulnerabilities or how you or your family members could be scammed, the knowledgeable pros at Breon & Associates are ready to help. With offices in Harrisburg and South Central PA, Breon & Associates provides business, accounting and tax services throughout Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina and Florida. Call us at 1-888-516-8476 or 717-273-8626, or contact one of our offices online to schedule an online consultation or an online training event.
415 Market Street, Suite #205
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Camp Hill Office:
3461 Market Street, Ste 101
Camp Hill, PA 17011
901 Dawn Avenue, Suite A
Ephrata, PA 17522
3 Park Plaza, Suite 207
Wyomissing, PA 19610