Keeping Small Businesses Safe from Security Threats
Often times, workers at small businesses juggle an array of jobs within a company. Maintaining the company’s online presence is an example of a task that can be performed by a marketing or operations specialist or can even be handled by the owner.
Better Business Bureau wants to make sure your business is taking the necessary steps to protect your company from cyber thieves who have the ability to exploit system weaknesses and access sensitive data with just a few clicks of a mouse. According to the Federal Communications Commission, theft of digital information has become the most commonly reported fraud, more so than physical theft. Even if you don’t have the resources to hire a full-time security expert, every business has the responsibility to create a culture of cyber safety to enhance business and consumer relations.
A study administered by the Ponemon Institute found that more than half of American small businesses surveyed experienced at least one data breach last year. Of those companies, only 33% notified customers after the breach that personal data that may have been compromised. Follow these steps to protect your company, your customers and their personal data.
- Data Encryption – Assume cyber thieves will hack into your business system. These type of thieves can expertly determine your system’s weaknesses. Protect information, computers and networks with firewall software that is updated and tested on a regular basis. Having the latest security software, web browser and operating system can be the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats. Ensure work-from-home employees are also protected by a firewall.
- Insider Threats – Internal employees can be one of the main causes of data breach occurrences. All personnel working for your company should have a background check performed. The Ponemon Institute found lost or stolen technology, including laptops, hard drives or smart phones with confidential information was one of the main causes of small business breaches. Employee mistakes were also a common cause. Train employees in security principles, including developing strong passwords and requiring them to change their password every three months. Multifactor authentication can also be useful.
- Have a Contingency Plan – When a data breach does occur, have a response plan in place. Make a list of contacts to notify first, including credit monitoring companies, lawyers and communication agents. The plan should identify who has access to certain information, how data is stored and how it is backed up. Responding as soon as a breach has been identified can help control potential damages.
- Insurance Coverage – Business owners believe it can’t happen to them, but cyber crime is a real risk. Contact a third party insurance agent to create a plan to protect your business against cyber threats.
- Have Backups in Place – Regularly backup data on all computers at least weekly. Store information offsite or in the cloud, which is becoming increasingly popular with businesses. The most critical data includes human resources files, accounts payable, and other financial files.
- Keep Security Information Private – Don’t share information about your company’s cyber security. Criminals can and will use any public information about a security system to get around it. Also, avoid promising consumers their information is absolutely safe with the company. There is always a slight chance someone may misuse it or it may be stolen.
The FCC provides small businesses with a free step-by-step planning guide that helps companies create a cyber security plan to help protect against threats.
For more information on staying safe online, visit our BBB data security tips.
A Healthier 2014 Starts with Looking Fitness Club that Fits Your Needs Now
It’s likely to be a happy New Year for gyms and fitness centers all over because right after the ball drops, people start making their resolutions. That’s when you see all of the treadmills occupied and classes at your local gym full of people looking for a healthy start to the year. According to USA.gov, two of the top six New Year’s Resolutions every year are “Get Fit” and “Lose Weight.” And after the indulgences of the holidays are behind us, and we notice our clothes aren’t fitting us quite as well, it’s easy to see why improving one’s health through exercise is always a top resolution.
In order to be motivated and ready to prove to yourself you can be a healthier version of you in 2014, your gym search needs to start now. We recommend taking a look at BBB Business Reviews of fitness centers in your area. In 2012, more than 435,000 consumers in the United States turned to BBB Business Reviews to look into health and fitness clubs in their area. The Accredited Business search on bbb.org is also a good starting point in finding a gym in your neighborhood that you can trust.
You should not feel pressured to make a commitment to a gym membership during an initial visit. Many gyms will offer a free tour and trial passes to use the facility, so be sure to ask about these or similar opportunities. Take time to weigh your options and ask questions about specific programs and equipment. For example, do you want access to personal training, group classes, resistance training, athletic games and/or a swimming pool and does this gym provide these options? Also ask about child care options if you have kids – this could make a slightly higher cost of one gym over another worthwhile.
If you decide to pursue membership after weighing your options, BBB recommends that you ask specific questions about the contract and billing:
- Cost: What’s the total cost and payment schedule each month? Take time to read the contract and understand what services are included in the monthly fee and what will cost extra. Ask if there is an enrollment fee or finance charge and find out when money will be taken out of your account each month, or if you can pay on a month-to-month basis.
- Terms: What are the terms of the initial offer? Some fitness centers will give you a special rate during your first months. Make sure you understand when and how much rates will rise after the initial joining period is over and if you have to sign up for a long-term contract to receive the special offer. Know how much the membership will cost you each month for the length of the contract so you select a plan you can afford.
- Contract Length: How long is my membership contract? You may consider signing up for a short-term contract in case you’re not happy with the services offered or you get injured. Find out if the contract automatically renews after the membership period has ended in order for you to plan ahead in understanding and executing the sometimes-confusing cancellation policy.
- Cancellation Policy: What is the cancellation policy? Discover your cancellation rights in case you move away, the club closes, or something unexpected happens. Will you be able to receive a refund for a portion of your membership cost? Make sure these details are written out. How do you go about canceling a membership? Each business has a different cancellation policy. Some companies need a cancellation letter in writing, others you must cancel in person and sometimes there is a fee. The details of the policy should be in the contract.
- Take your Time: Consumers shouldn’t be rushed or pressured to sign a contract and get moving at just any gym. Take the time now to explore your options, find a place you feel comfortable and understand what you’re signing up for in order to start the New Year off right.
For more information on making smart buying decisions, visit our website www.easternmichiganbbb.org.
Better Business Bureau Warns: Phony Websites Pretend to Be Overstock.com
In the past year, Better Business Bureau has shut down more than one hundred fraudulent websites that illegally steal the famous BBB logo and imply they are legitimate sites. A noticeable trend recently is websites that include the word “overstock” in the domain name, hoping to fool consumers into thinking they are shopping with Overstock.com.
“Overstock.com is a highly visible online retailer, so it’s no wonder scammers try to mimic them,” noted Carrie A. Hurt, President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the umbrella organization for 113 BBBs across the U.S. and Canada. “We’ve seen this with other major retailers as well. BBB is warning consumers: be careful to look for the real domain when it comes to major retail sites.”
“Our web address is simple: overstock.com,” said Jonathan Johnson, Executive Vice Chairman of Overstock.com, Inc. “That’s all. If the name is longer, or uses any additional words, or letters, if it has any words other than ‘overstock’ before the dot com, it’s not our website.”
Overstock.com is a BBB Accredited Business with an A rating, as well as a National Partner of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The company has been recognized by many organizations, including Compuware as a “Best of the Web” award winner for four years in a row.
BBB suggests the following tips for online shoppers to avoid bogus websites:
- Go to bbb.org to look up the BBB Business Reviews of your favorite online retailers.
- Type the URL directly into your browser; do not click on a link from an email or social media site unless you are absolutely sure the message is from the legitimate business.
- On the payment page, look for “https” at the beginning of the address (the “s” stands for “secure”).
- Look for “Contact Us” information, including a real address, a toll-free customer service number, and other ways to reach the company if you have a problem.
- Use a credit card (not a debit card) when shopping online for greater protections against possible fraud.
- If a website has a BBB Accredited Business seal, click on it. A real seal should link directly to that company’s BBB Business Review.
For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping consumers find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2012, consumers turned to BBB 124 million times for Business Reviews on more than 4.5 million companies and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for 113 local, independent BBBs across the United States and Canada, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution and industry self-regulation.
Overstock.com (NASDAQ: OSTK) is an online discount retailer based in Salt Lake City, Utah that sells a broad range of products including furniture, rugs, bedding, electronics, clothing, jewelry and cars. Worldstock.com, a fair trade department dedicated to selling artisan-crafted products from around the world offers additional unique items. Main Street Revolution supports small businesses across the United States by providing them a national customer base. The Nielsen State of the Media: Consumer Usage Report placed Overstock.com among the top five most visited mass merchandiser websites in 2011. The NRF Foundation/American Express 2011 Customer Choice Awards ranked Overstock.com #4 in customer service among all U.S. retailers. Overstock.com sells internationally under the name O.co. Overstock.com and O.co regularly post information about the company and other related matters under Investor Relations on its website
BBB’s 12 Scams of Christmas
Christmas carols herald the spirit of the holiday, and the Twelve days of Christmas does so in a unique way. The Better Business Bureau offers its own version, to remind consumers to take extra special care to avoid having the holiday ruined by fraud and theft.
Better Business Bureau is warning about these common holiday scams and frauds:
- Malware e-cards: Viruses and malware often travel in e-mail attachments or links. Don’t click on an e-mail from someone you don’t know or a name you don’t recognize. When it doubt, delete!
- Stranded grandkids: It’s the classic “grandparent scam.” If your grandchild, other relative or friend calls or e-mails to say they were robbed or hurt overseas, check before wiring money.
- Counterfeit gifts: Low prices on luxury goods are almost always cheap counterfeits. At best, you’ll look like a Scrooge. At worst, you may be helping finance drug traffickers or terrorists.
- Pickpockets: Need we say more? Keep your purse or wallet secure when shopping. Don’t get overburdened or put shopping bags down, even for a moment. Thieves are watching!
- Stolen gift cards: Buy gift cards only from reputable dealers, not online or from individuals. It’s easy for a scammer to sell you the card, then pull off the funds before you can even give the gift.
- Fake coupons: Be cautious when downloading coupons. Always make sure you are at a retailer’s real website. Be especially careful with coupon sites that ask for personal information.
- Santa scammers: What could be more jolly than a letter from Santa addressed directly to your child? Make sure the site is real and not gathering your data for identity theft purposes.
- Fake charities: Charities count on end-of-the-year giving, so be generous if you can. But be careful, too, because scammers set up fake charities with similar sounding names.
- Bogus websites: It’s easy to mimic a real website, with logos and everything. Red flags: http (not the more secure https), no contact information, asking for payment by wire or money card.
- Travel scams: With busy holiday travel, bargains may be tempting. Be cautious when booking through online ads, never wire money to someone you don’t know, and ask for references.
- Romance scams: Everyone wants a special someone under the mistletoe, so holidays are prime time for scams. Be careful with an online sweetheart who gets cozy too fast or asks for money.
- Puppy scams: Be very careful buying pets online, especially at the holidays. You may get a puppy mill pooch with problems, or you may get nothing at all because it was a scam.
BBB Warns About “Storm Chasers” - Scammers prey on anxious homeowners
The Better Business Bureau is reminding those who experienced storm damage to take certain precautions when cleaning up and making repair decisions.
Natural disasters like tornados, hurricanes, floods, fires and earthquakes can bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, crises also bring out persons who choose to take advantage of the victims. BBB calls these “storm chasers,” and expects to see plenty of them as consumers and businesses assess the damage from recent storms.
Some of the most common “after-storm” scams involve auto, home and yard repairs or clean-up. BBB offers the following tips to homeowners who suffered auto and/or property damage:
Contact your insurance company as soon as possible about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.
Stay calm. Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be pro-active in selecting a company and not reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
Shop around and verify contractor licenses. For major repairs, take the time to get at least 3-4 estimates based on the same specifications and materials. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it might be suspect. Check references, verify licensing and registration, and read BBB Business Reviews at www.easternmichiganbbb.org. There are thousands of home improvement and home repair contractors that are BBB Accredited Businesses and that are committed to fair, honest and transparent business dealings with their customers. You can check whether a contractor is licensed as required by law with your local Department of Consumer Affairs.
Be cautious if you get unsolicited repair offers. Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over materials from a nearby job or who do not have a permanent place of business. If sales people go door-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits. Don’t admit strangers to your home who may appear on your doorstep falsely claiming to represent government agencies, and require proof of business identity from utility workers who request access to your property. Watch out if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it.
Get everything in writing. Require a written contract with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Any promises made verbally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, license number (if applicable) and phone number are included in the contract, along with a start and end date for the work. Once you have found a contractor, request proof of a current insurance certificate covering workman’s compensation, property damage and personal liability.
Never pay in full in advance, and never pay cash! While many companies may ask for a deposit, BBB suggests that no more than one-third of the job be paid up front. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Before making the final payment, ask the contractor to show proof that all subcontractors have been paid (if not, you could be liable).
Disaster and storm damage victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. For more tips you can trust and for a list of BBB Accredited Businesses in your area, visit www.bbb.org or www.easternmichiganbbb.org.
BBB warns seniors of Social Security scams
Better Business Bureau is warning seniors to never give out Social Security numbers, Medicare/Medicaid numbers and bank account information over the phone.
This warning comes in the wake of numerous area residents receiving phone calls falsely informing them that the Social Security Administration is mailing everyone new Social Security cards. To receive the card, the caller only needs to verify a few things and with that the new Social Security card will be on its way.
The caller then verifies the recipient’s name, address, age and sometimes will ask for the Social Security number, supposedly just to make sure there’s no error on the card, as well as bank account information.
When the person called asks why the caller needs the name of the bank, the scammers have a couple of different answers. They claim sometimes it’s because the Social Security Administration needs to know where to deposit the monthly Social Security check while at other times the caller says it’s to make sure he is talking with the person who is to receive the new card.
For those who refuse to answer the question, the conversation usually ends with the caller being quite disturbed and hanging up.
This is an out-and-out scam to get personal information for identity theft purposes and, of course, there is the big risk that money will be withdrawn from the accounts of those who cooperated with the scammer in providing all requested information.
BBB offers the following tips to avoid falling for this scam:
- Do not provide your bank account information, Medicare number, social security number or any other personal information to unknown individuals over the phone; particularly telephone marketers claiming to be from the SSA or Medicare asking for payment.
- Social Security recipients usually do get letters from the government when their benefits increase or the government may send out a statement on taxes paid and future benefits due. But, the federal government never asks for someone’s Social Security number – they already know it.
- If you receive misleading information about a “Social Security” service from someone seeking payment for the service, send the solicitation to the Social Security Administration. If you have a complaint about a company you believe have defrauded you, contact the Better Business Bureau.
- If you believe your Social Security number has been compromised, please notify TransUnion Fraud Alert Assistance at (800) 680-7289. If your bank information has been compromised, please contact your bank immediately to prevent unauthorized and fraudulent transactions.
- Please remember that new Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid cards are not being issued to those who already have a number. Do not enable the scammer by giving the unknown caller any information — just hang up.
Tips to Protect Yourself When a Stranger Comes Knocking
BBB Urges Consumers to Avoid Doing Business at the Front Door
When the seasons change, many people think about home improvement projects, which is why it also often brings unwanted and often fraudulent solicitations for a variety of products and services right to your door. Many times they are run by con artists who move from town to town and state to state, performing poor work, or simply collecting deposits and leaving behind a trail of unhappy consumers. Below are a variety of different fraudulent solicitors that might appear on your doorstep.
- Asphalt pavers - They offer cut-rate paving services, claiming they have material left over from another job in the neighborhood. Their work and materials are often substandard and the quality of work is poor.
- Home improvement contractors - Many door to door contractors are unlicensed, uninsured and unqualified to do the work they offer.
- Heating, roofing and chimney contractors – They may make false claims that major repairs are necessary or that heating equipment needs replacement.
- Landscapers and cleanup crews – Scammers knock on doors and send out flyers at this time of year, offering yard maintenance and cleanup services. They may show up once or twice, or simply take a deposit and never return to do the work.
- Magazine sellers – Students are often unaware they are being duped into selling magazine subscriptions for disreputable operators. In many cases wrong magazines arrive or consumers are overcharged. In other situations, the magazine vendors’ boss is simply collecting credit card information for the purpose of committing fraud.
- Alarm systems – BBBs across the country receive complaints about people selling alarm systems and failing to divulge terms of the contract for alarm system monitoring.
Not all contractors are out to scam consumers however, in fact, most contractors are legitimate. Unfortunately, their reputation can be tarnished by unscrupulous operators who cheat consumers. Consumers more than ever need to research companies, because of concerns about scams, reliability and quality of work. Consumers can also search for trusted businesses at the BBB here.
Below are six tips from the Better Business Bureau to protect against fraudulent operators.
- Don’t make decisions at your front door. If your property requires maintenance or remodeling, the BBB recommends researching prospective contractors and sellers at www.bbb.org, to see what other consumers’ experiences have been like. Also, do not invite unsolicited salespeople into your home.
- Ask for identification and information. If someone is selling door to door, request they provide you with proper identification and leave you with material to read about their products and services. Legitimate sellers and contractors will give you the time you need to research their reputation and reliability.
- Watch out for high pressure sales tactics. Avoid sellers who encourage you to sign a contract or put down a deposit right away, claiming that will offer a special rate, but only if you act immediately.
- Check all contractors’ credentials. Make sure they provide proof of insurance required coverage, licensing and proof of registration with the State of Michigan.
- Get it all in writing. A contract should contain a description of the project, labor and materials to be used, a start and completion date and payment schedule. Make sure contracts contain any verbal promises in writing.
- Remember your rights. You may be able to cancel a contract under the “cooling off period” which in some instances gives you three days to cancel purchases made at your home. More information can be found on this at the Michigan Attorney General’s website at http://1.usa.gov/10zigS2.
The Better Business Bureau also urges consumers to be wary of telephone solicitations for products and services. You will find additional consumer tips at www.easternmichiganbbb.org.
Secure Your ID Day
Senior Scam Prevention Seminars
The BBB will host scam prevention seminars across Eastern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula for groups, organizations, senior centers and senior living facilities at no cost.
Attendees will learn:
- The red flags of investment fraud and other scams
- The most recent and most prevalent scams in the market
- How to avoid becoming a victim of a scam
- The dos and don’ts of dealing with aggressive sales persons and scammers
- How to report scams and what to do if you are scammed
- Important resources for seniors
The BBB will also provide training for caregivers so that they can recognize the warning signs when their loved one is potentially becoming a victim of a scam and tips on what they can do to help.
Any group, organization or business interested in a training session can contact the BBB at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-799-0326.