Hackers rely on only a few things to scam you out of the money or data they want: a sense of urgency, financial desires, human emotion, and how easy a target is. Unfortunately, in times of economic uncertainty, these things are abundant and leave people at their most vulnerable. And while financial assistance extended to small businesses, from both the federal and state governments is a good thing, it’s now even more important to be vigilant about safety. That being said, this is a great time for small business owners to take a moment to brush up on best practices to avoid these types of scams. Here’s our top five:
1. Only apply for assistance online through websites ending in “.gov.”
This is the official top-level domain of the United States government through which all of their business is conducted. Most state governments also use this domain however, there are some exceptions such as .us, .org or even in some cases, .com. In general, as long as you’ve navigated to these sites from official .gov webpages, you should be good; but keep an eye out for signs of a malicious/phishing site. When in doubt, make sure to double check by calling your state or local government offices before proceeding.
2. Be wary of companies that offer to fill the forms out for you, or offer to guide you through the process at no cost.
This can be a way to harvest your information, or enter fraudulent information. If you’re having difficulty filling out your paperwork, it is recommended to seek either legal counsel or the services of a CPA, as these professionals are liable for any forms they complete for their clients.
3. Exercise caution on the phone.
If a government agent calls to speak to you regarding this process, ask for their number and call them back. You should have to dial an extension to speak to them. And remember that it is never a safe practice to provide personal information over the phone.
4. Avoid being a target.
The government is offering loans with very high dollar amounts during this time, so do your best to avoid over-borrowing. This practice can put you in the crosshairs of scammers. Along the same lines, avoid sharing this information with people outside your business, especially publicly via social media or to a member of the press.
5. Take care of your team.
If your employees are planning to apply for assistance, their direct deposit will come through the same bank account attached to this year’s tax returns. Tell them to keep an eye on that account, and to check the IRS website for additional information
From one small business to another, we truly hope that you will be able to safely secure the assistance you need to weather this crisis -- and we all come out of it even stronger than before. Make sure to visit the SBA’s helpful website to learn more about which stimulus offers apply to your business.