Business Opportunity Follow-up

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.

No excuses!

Business Fraud Prevention Series – Part 3

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.

  1. They registered a similar domain (acmecorp.BIZ) instead of .COM
  2. An email address was created to impersonate our company, but not on that domain, rather on a gmail account (AcmeEmployee@Gmail.com)
  3. 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.
  4. Purchase orders were created using our company name, employee name and the false email/phone details.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Business Fraud Prevention Series – Part 2

Protect yourself from Scammers – Part 2 – Credit Card Fraud

Fraudulent Cards

Following along in the fraud prevention series is Part 2 – Credit Card Fraud. If you have been involved in online retail and/or international telesales, this topic is not likely a new one. Nonetheless and especially for those looking to get involved in online retail, this is what we found and how we prevent it each and every day.

Part 2 – Credit Card Fraud: When I say each and every day, it is no exaggeration. At VoIP Supply, our customer-base is global and our store is open 24/7 for those in need of VoIP hardware and IP Camera equipment. There are sections of the globe known for fraudulent activity, but it is not limited to foreign soil. To keep this shorter than average, below are a few techniques used and some of the steps you absolutely must take in order to protect yourself.

Things to look for: Some general techniques used to fool online retailers and telesales organizations.

  1. Late day and particularly Friday afternoon orders that must be delivered the next day or by Express shipment. If someone calls at 4:50 pm on Friday and needs 50 Polycom IP Phones delivered the following day, it raises a flag.
  2. Shipping Address variations: If the shipping address is different than the billing address it should be cause to look further. Though often perfectly fine, if someone with a billing address in Nebraska is shipping to Miami, I’d want to look deeper.
  3. Name Variations: If the name on the card is different than the name being shipped to, this could also be fine but can indicate potential fraud activity.

How to protect yourself: There are some basic rules to follow, all of the time.

  1. Verify with the card issuing bank. This is an absolute must if a red flag is up. Get the phone number from the back of the card and make sure that the bank verifies that the card is not stolen, that the names are authorized and that the shipping address is on file as an alternate address for the credit card. All credit card companies allow you to authorize multiple shipping addresses. If you “customer” tells you otherwise, walk away and protect yourself.
  2. Call the company: If Joe Smith from Acme Corp in Lincoln NE wants to ship to Fred Richards in Miami Florida, google Acme Corp and call their phone number to see if Joe Smith works there and truly does want the goods shipped to Miami. Don’t rely on phone numbers provided by suspected fraudsters.
  3. Look up the shipping address. If you google the address to be shipped to and you find that there is a freight forwarder doing business at that address, follow through with items 1 and 2 above.
  4. Common sense. Run the card through your merchant processor as you would any other card and make sure to get the valid name, address and security code with all of them matching. If the code doesn’t match, the zip code if wrong or the name fails, you may have saved yourself some pain down the road.

It is pretty easy to protect yourself and far less expensive than eating a total loss. There are companies out there that will provide these screening services for you if you don’t have time to do them yourself. Be careful and look out for your business as most other people aren’t going to.

Business Fraud Prevention Series – Part 1

Protect yourself from Scammers – Part 1 – Check FraudProtect yourself from business fraud

This post contains a few examples written from personal experience where I / we were either a victim or very nearly taken advantage of. There are ways to protect yourself but not all are obvious and, without taking the appropriate measures, you may well find yourself in a similar situation. In this series I’ll write about check fraud, credit card fraud, identity theft, international transactions and other methods that dishonest people will attempt to take advantage of you and your business.

Part 1 – Fake checks: Over the past eight years that VoIP Supply has been dominating the online retail marketplace for new and used Voice over IP hardware, we have had several waves of fake checks totaling well into the high six figures and possibly over the seven figure mark. People have created and delivered hundreds/thousands of checks with our account numbers, company name and address to victimized individuals and businesses around the world. Someone sold their Harley Davidson on eBay in exchange for one of these checks, delivered the bike and a few days later found out the check for $10,000 was not legit. Companies have sold goods to people impersonating VoIP Supply, delivered them COD and received a fake check in return. Those are just a couple of examples, there are hundreds more…

How they did it: First things first, they got our checking account number. At VoIP Supply and IP Camera Supply, we have a lot of customers that choose to pay by wire transfer and we generate plenty of quotes with our wire transfer instructions on it. These instructions contain our account number and our bank’s routing number. In addition to that, every check we cut and send to vendors, partners, customers and affiliates (just like your checks) contains the same information. Once you have this information, all you (they) need to do is march on into and office supplies store, buy some blank checks and start printing. It’s that simple and not much of a secret.

How to protect yourself: Here are some ways we’ve done it.

  1. Setup a separate checking account for incoming wires. Your bank can setup an account that does not permit checks to be cashed against it and use it in a one-way manner for deposits only. Once your incoming wire arrives, the bank can then transfer the funds to your primary account(s).
  2. Talk to your bank about check fraud protection programs they may have. We use a program that requires all checks that we generate to be registered with the bank prior to them being eligible for cashing or deposits. We provide the bank with a list of check numbers, amounts and payees and they will only cash checks that appear on that list. It may be an inconvenience from time to time, but well worth it for both us and for the bank.
  3. There are several well known brands in the check printing industry, companies like McBee and Deluxe. If you can, reach out to them and provide your account number if they have a program to register accounts not eligible for printing. They have their own fraud prevention process as well.
  4. If and when you see your first check like this or find yourself in this situation, brace yourself, it will likely be just the start. Don’t wait for them to begin piling in, take action right away. Let your bank know what’s going on, call the police and file a report and begin working on steps 1-3 above. If the tally continues to grow, keep the local police involved, they will escalate it to a federal enforcement group once past a certain dollar figure or volume of transactions.

In our case, while this fake check issue continues to present itself from time to time, it has been put in the hands of the Secret Service and several of these people have been tracked down and prosecuted. Because they were fake checks and the bank caught it, we were not out any funds. Nonetheless, individuals and businesses were victimized and they should be protected by your proactive fraud control measures. Be smart, plan ahead.

  • Credit card scams – See part 2 – This one cost us a long time ago. We learned the hard way so you don’t have to.
  • Identity theft (business and person) – See part 3 – This is a growing threat for individuals and businesses, don’t ignore it, prevent it.
  • International – See part 4 – If you service a global customer base as we do, be cautious and don’t be afraid to walk away when it seems to good to be true.
  • Internal affairs – See part 5 – Dishonest people are everywhere, protect yourself from being victimized from inside your own walls.

Smart PowerStrips: A no-brainer for business

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.