It’s not the girl or guy who’s number you got last night, it’s someone who wants to hear from you now.
No delays, no games, close the deal!
Having created and run multiple businesses in both the services industry as well as hard goods, I’ve come across a fair amount of opportunities and inquires. While there are many differences between these types of businesses, there are also some similarities, including the opportunity follow-up.
Answer immediately, particularly in the age of the internet, constant connectivity and instant response/gratification expectations. For us and many, our website is our storefront and any form completed to request information or follow-up communication is someone figuratively knocking on the door.
Just imagine if you had a brick and mortar business and your front door is locked at the moment. A customer shows up and knocks on your door to buy some goods or simply to ask a few questions. How many of these opportunities do you suppose you would close if you chose to answer your door a few hours or even a few days after the customer is knocking? Do you really think that they would just sit there waiting for you to answer the door?
When a customer completes a web form requesting information or contact, especially these days, they demand an answer immediately. If you choose to ignore the knocking on your door (or email on your smartphone) and wait any stretch of time to answer, you will lose nearly every time. They will go next door and find another seller, they will go to another website and submit a request and eventually, they will get an answer in a more prompt and professional manner.
Protect yourself from Scammers – Part 3 – Identity Theft
Up next in the fraud prevention series (yes, it’s been a bit of a time lapse) is Part 3 – Identity theft – business and personal. This one stems from actual events at my company and with some of my employees directly. This one in particular is far more difficult to prevent and stopping it once it’s begun will prove harder yet.
In our situation, a group of scammers has attempted to impersonate my company and one of my people in particular. By using his name and the name of our company under a similar internet domain, some hosted toll free numbers and free email (gmail) they began their scam.
In this particular case the following events transpired.
They registered a similar domain (acmecorp.BIZ) instead of .COM
An email address was created to impersonate our company, but not on that domain, rather on a gmail account (AcmeEmployee@Gmail.com)
A toll free number was setup and forwarded to a cell phone or land line of the scammers. The number was answered as my employees name and my company name.
Purchase orders were created using our company name, employee name and the false email/phone details.
Credit applications were submitted to vendors using our company name, bank name, bank account numbers, trade references and everything else about our company except for the contact information which was the toll free number and gmail account.
The purchase orders were sent to manufacturers and distributors for all kinds of things from electronics to furniture – all to be shipped to some freight forwarder in Florida.
This one was and continues to prove difficult to slow down and/or stop. Unfortunately it falls on the purchase order recipient to use good judgment and fraud control measures of their own. There is no way for us to alert all manufacturers and distributors of fraudulent purchase orders prior to them calling us and following up on the credit application(s).
How do you protect yourself against this type of scam?
It is much harder than others where you can simply change your bank account number or get a new credit card. Proactively the only things we could have done would be to register every domain remotely close to ours and include .biz, .info, .org, .us, .mobi, etc.
Re-actively we alerted the banks to the situation, alerted D&B to make note on our credit file, alerted other credit bureaus to note our file, engaged the local police, FBI and Secret Service to investigate and contacted larger distributors to let them know of the events.
As a distributor and reseller myself, these sorts of oddities (gmail account and non-.com domains) are big red flags and automatically trigger some deeper digging, but for others not familiar with this sort of activity or hungry to close the deal without looking at the details this can spell a huge financial loss.
Being Green isn’t that hard and has to start somewhere.
Swap out your power strips with Smart Power.
I recently picked up a motion detection power strip for my office which is pretty nice. My PC plugged into an ‘always on’ outlet and everything else (monitors, speakers, scanner and printer) plugged into outlets that turn off automatically if no motion is detected for 5 minutes. The motion sensor is placed under my desk so as long as a wiggle a leg now and then, everything stays on. When I leave for the day or even for a few minutes, I can rest assured that I am not wasting power or money. Multiply that by the 30-40 other workstations here and the annual savings is pretty significant.
Here is the math to help you figure it out:
(1) one killowatt hour costs $.13
My PC draws 200 watts/hr. (200 * 24 hours = 4,800 watts (4.8 kilowatts) for a total of $.624 per day, $227.76 per year) – this stays on for remote access
On average I’m sitting at the desk say 6 hours per weekday day
My peripherals draw a total of 180 watts/hr. (180 * ~20 hours = 3,600 watts (3.6 kilowatts) for a total of ($.468 per day, $170.82 per year) – these get turned off
At 40 PCs in the office and all using the same calculations, the first year I would save $6,833 less the cost of the power strips (about $90 delivered). All total, year one I would save $3,233 and over three years a total of $16,899 in savings! My accountant’s office with more than 150 workstations would pocket more than $25,623 per year in expense reductions. If you don’t need remote access to the PC, even better, turn all of it off.
There are plenty of options and choices out there, the one I picked up is the Isole IDP-305 available at Wattstopper.com.
A few very important and unknown or overlooked aspects of business…
This post comes about as I was having dinner last evening with a distributor, partner and occasionally a competitor – all one in the same. It was so interesting and even amusing to exchange stories of similar experiences as we are in the same industry with a close business model, of roughly the same age and size. Some of these topics should serve as warnings and things to prepare for if you plan on starting a business, particularly an online business catering to more than just a local customer base.
Checking account fraud prevention. I can’t imagine it will be too long (certainly shouldn’t be) before actual printed checks become a thing of the past. In the meantime, you need to be prepared and protect yourself from fraud. While this may not pertain to all businesses, the crack in the armor stems from extending wire transfer as a means of payment for customers though that isn’t an exclusive source for this fraud tactic. Maybe they prepare customers now, but when I got started, no one at the bank every had this conversation with me until it was too late and the police, FBI and Secret Service had to get involved.
The tip: Setup an account at your bank that is Deposit Only and use that account if you are going to accept a wire transfer. Have a separate operating account to write your checks from.
The other tip: Use a service called Positive Pay which requires you to be more proactive in working with your bank, but prevents any check from clearing your account if you have not previously informed the bank of the payee, the check number and the amount.
The reason: Once someone has your company name, address, checking account and bank routing number, they have enough information to print or order blank checks that draw from your checking account. This happened to me as well as my friend that I was dining with last evening. Prior to us using the above two tips, we had a couple of sprees where hundreds, perhaps thousands of checks were written using our account number and distributed all over the place. We had people calling daily who had sold their Harley, their car, their guitar and even their time and expertise in exchange for a fraudulent check written and drawn on our account. Unfortunately for the victims, the sellers of goods and services, these bad checks were rejected at the bank but usually not before they had been scammed out of their goods.
Credit card fraud control and prevention. I certainly don’t need to explain what this is or even the multitude of angles people choose to execute their fraudulent activities, but there are a couple of definitive ways to protect yourself and they work regardless of tactic chosen by the thief. It would have been nice to have been warned about this back in 2004, before it cost me more than $100k.
If you are shipping physical goods, make sure you are shipping to the billing address or have your customer call and list an alternate shipping address on their card with the card issuing bank.
Make sure that you get the phone number off of the back of the credit card and the name of the bank that issued the credit card. It is your responsibility to call that bank and make sure the card is valid as is the shipping address. Using credit card processing address verification is a good start, but it is not good enough to protect yourself.
Look out for telltale signs of fraud. One we see often is customers calling late on a Friday that need the product delivered the next morning. Price is no object to them, nor the expense of Saturday delivery. Most people can wait until Monday, you’d be wise (usually) to drag your feet and process the order the following week or insist on a wire transfer vs. a credit card.
Asset and operations surveillance and monitoring. This one is pretty simple and straightforward. You’ve built your business and despite the perceived big brother effect that comes along with cameras in the work place, if you have expensive goods that someone might want to steal, put them under surveillance or you may as well leave your door unlocked. It’s also a good idea to monitor the outside of your business and not just the inside as a ski mask might hide the face, but it doesn’t hide a license plate.
Planning near and long term. So you built your business and things are booming right along. You have a business plan but are bogged down with day to day activities and just keeping things afloat. Planning your current activities and projects is critical to getting things done and working efficiently, but don’t put your head in the sand for too long. You need to make sure that you take some time to get away and revisit or revise your long term goals. It is easy to ignore when scrambling to make ends meet, grow the business, keep customers happy and try to have some sort of life on top of it. Plan for the long term as if all of your customers are going away and your marketplace is drying up. What would you do if what you did or sold suddenly became obsolete? Find some other baskets and plan to move your eggs around from time to time. I’m not suggesting you stop what you are doing now, just that your eyes need to be open and you shouldn’t assume anything.
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