In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission reported a 20% increase of consumers and small business owners falling victim to identity theft and scams. Of the 5.9 million reported complaints filed that year, 2.9MM were specific to fraud, and 25% of those cases reported a loss amounting to $6.1 billion.

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Small business owners have a lot on their plate but fighting fraud should be a priority. Fraudsters often pretend to be someone you can trust and create a sense of urgency to act quickly. For example, a fraudster could compromise a business email and request a money transfer to a specified account often via a wire transfer. Once the wire is sent, the fraudster has the funds and it’s nearly impossible to recover.

Other common scenarios small business owners may fall victim to include having their phone or computer compromised, their business checks stolen, or someone forging their signature on important documents.

Remaining vigilant against fraudsters is important to avoid scams. Here are 3 tips for small business owners to protect themselves:

1. Don’t share passwords or access codes

Don Pearson is Wells Fargo Regional Banking Executive.

Like with personal computers or phones, small business owners need to make sure to keep their business passwords, files, and financial information safe and secure. Fraudsters often try to trick people into sharing passwords or enticing them to click a link that will give access to a device. Fraudsters may then call, text or email to obtain the temporary access code that a financial institution may have sent to a trusted device. Before clicking a link or entering a password on a website, owners should verify it’s legitimate. Red flags to look out for include typos in the email or web address or an unusual request from a known client or supplier. Financial institutions typically never call, text or email asking for temporary access code(s). 

Fraudsters can also try to get employees to give out sensitive information over the phone. Owners need to be very leery of requests to provide passwords or financial information over the phone and never give temporary access code(s) to anyone over the phone, in response to a text or email request, even if the caller claims to be calling from a government agency or a trusted vendor. Stop and verify the request by contacting the company directly using a trusted source, such as the company’s website, or the phone number printed on the back of the company’s card.

2. Be knowledgeable and educate employees

There are many different tactics and variations of scams that fraudsters use. The Federal Trade Commission shares a few to watch out for.

Business owners need to make sure they are knowledgeable about common scams and how to protect against them. If there is suspicion of fraud activity on an account(s), it is critical to promptly take the following steps to protect the account(s):

• Contact the bank or financial institution to safeguard the account(s)

• Contact local police or the local FBI office to report the fraud

• Notify employees so everyone can participate in protecting the business and identifying the fraudsters

• Upgrade cybersecurity protocols (the Federal Trade Commission [FTC], Small Business Administration [SBA], and FBI offer helpful guidelines)

3. Take advantage of resources and tools

Take full advantage of tools that are offered to proactively detect unusual activity and manage access to accounts.

Set up account alerts: Use alerts to help quickly detect and report unusual activity that could indicate fraud. Set up alerts to be notified when a purchase or withdrawal is made on business account(s). If something doesn’t seem right, contact the bank right away!

Manage account access: Routinely review and monitor who has access to the business account(s) and remove access when needed.

Use additional layers of security: Many banks may offer an additional layer of security to help protect business/personal information and prevent unauthorized transactions. For example, require an access code to confirm the employee’s identity when completing certain transaction or changes. Explore additional sign-on options the bank may offer, such as two-step verification at sign on and biometrics.

It can take time to change habits to diligently search for and help protect against potential scams, but with these resources and tips, small business owners can be well-armed in the fight against fraud.

For more tips and information about how to avoid falling victim to small business fraud, check out Wells Fargo’s Small Business Security Center.


Author: Don Pearson is a Wells Fargo Regional Banking Executive.