As a journalist, and also a business owner, I’ve got a pretty versatile and unpredictable day.
I’ve spent much of today on the other side of the fence – not the guy doing the interviews, but the one being interviewed.
Today, I’ve done live radio and also spoken with other journos about an incident My Business got caught up in involving a sophisticated scam.
I’ve been running this company with my business partner Alex for a decade, and have been in the media for much longer. That’s a fair bit of experience, but even when you think you’ve seen most things, there’s stuff that still gets around you.
The scam involved the placement of an advertisement by an advertiser in our March and April 2016 issues of My Business.
The advertisement was associated with the purchase of cheap iPhones, Samsung Galaxies and other electronic devices.
Our advertising sales guy received a lead, followed it up, sold the advertising, went through the process of getting booking forms signed and collecting credit card payment authorisation, as well as managing the advertisement through our production process. It was all very normal.
We have a tight set of processes here – which is crucial since we deal with the placement of 500-plus adverts every month and work with hundreds of different clients.
But even though those processes are pretty robust, an advert that turned out to be part of this phishing scam got through.
Our bank first flagged a level of suspicion when we transacted the credit card we received for the invoice payment for the advertisement. So we then launched an investigation – establishing that the advert was connected with a phishing scam.
What it’s highlighted to me is that we’re all vulnerable to scammers, fraudsters and other crooks.
While painful – we’ve had to pulp and reprint the next issue of the magazine – it’s also embarrassing and disappointing. It’s also made me pretty angry that our readers have potentially been impacted.
Nevertheless, it’s been a good learning experience and I’ve spoken with all related areas of our business to put in place even more rigorous processes for identifying potential scams, when to raise red flags, and how we deal with them.
Everyone I’ve spoken to has been extremely receptive, and they share my sentiments and emotions about being scammed.
We’ve run thousands of different adverts via our print and digital products over the years, and this is the first time we’ve fallen victim to an advertising scam. We’re all exposed, so stay vigilant.
My tips and advice for fellow SMEs?
First, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Retrospectively, the ease with which this advertisement contract was received and signed (i.e. the deal) was just that little bit too easy – which should have raised a red flag.
Also, despite the ease with which the 'internet of things' has made doing business, it’s always good to stick to the fundamentals of good business. That means getting in front of people and shaking hands, engaging in conversation and establishing their credentials.
Remember, not all internet sites are real and even if someone has an Australian business, phone number or email, that doesn’t necessarily make them legitimate.
Every good business has a digital footprint, so as part of any relationship that you create, make sure you’ve done as many checks as possible. Don’t rely on glowing testimonials; do your own research, fact finding and follow your instincts.
Also, not all scammers are after your money. In this particular incident we were a conduit to facilitate the scamming of other consumers and businesses. The advert the advertiser placed in our magazine gave them legitimacy, allowing them to potentially take advantage of our readers.
For My Business, we’ll keep our focus on scammers and work with SMEs to help us all stay more vigilant, aware and responsive.