Scammers aim to target small businesses during reopening efforts

Posted at 8:10 PM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 20:10:28-04

CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio — We’re just one day away from the first phase of Ohio’s reopening. It’s the first step in getting Ohioans and businesses back to work.

But as we move closer to reopening retail in less than two weeks, Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs Director Sheryl Harris, says many small businesses could be at risk.

“Some scams that are aimed at businesses are going to be particularly effective against them,” she said.

Harris says those scams could end with thousands of dollars in losses as small business owners try to reopen.

“All it takes is a mistake you know and then you’re in hot water.”

As of Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had received 29,573 COVID-19 related scams and 785 of those came from Ohio. Harris says her team is investigating several of those cams, including a new “order scam” that targets small businesses.

“It’s smaller companies where people wear a lot of hats and they’re all used to you know just processing things and moving them on,” Harris said. “Anytime you’re advertising a good or a service there are scammers out there looking to kind of target you.”

When it comes to “order scams,” Harris says scammers place a large order with a business and overpay for the product or service by using a counterfeit check. Within their order they request part of their payment be used for shipping through a fake shipping company.

“The check gets deposited. It takes a while for banks to discover a counterfeit check,” Harris explained. “People think because the money is in their account, they’re okay to spend it. So, they go ahead and they ship those goods and they send the money to someone you know to pay for shipping with a company that’s not really a shipping company and all of that disappears, the goods, the money all of it.”

Harris says those kinds of incidents are ramping up and tutting vulnerable small business owners at risk during a time of uncertainty.

“We’ve seen fake check scams with dog walking businesses, with florist shops, with appliance stores, with anything that sells a good or service,” Harris said. “We just want people to be prepared for the fat that not everybody out there is an honest person like you.”

Harris says business owners should be skeptical of any large order or strange requests outside of their normal process.

For more tips, information on COVID-19 scams and how to relate them, click here.