Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Beware of Facebook “Fan Page Verification” Scam

Do you have a Facebook page for your business? If so, beware! There’s a new phishing scam that is targeting admins and page owners, according to Hoax Slayer

The scam works like this; the user receives an email, which purports to be from Facebook Security, telling them about a new security feature for page owners called the “Fan Page Verification Program.” 

The email explains that to complete the process, the user must choose a 10-digit number that will be assigned as a security code. It threatens that if you do not choose a code, your page will suspended because it is “not considered safe for the wide audience.” 

The link provided at the end of the email brings the user to a fake “Fan Page Verification Program” website, where they are prompted to enter their Facebook login details and the 10-digit code.  However, this is nothing more than an attempt to steal Facebook account details.

If you receive an email like this, BBB recommends that you:
  • Do not click any links in the email
  • Delete the email
  • Keep your virus software up-to-date

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Business Owners Guide to Seasonal Hiring


Summer is here and with it brings a multitude of teens, college students and many others looking for employment. Better Business Bureau reminds employers that hiring seasonal workers – regardless of age, involves following many of the laws and regulations that apply to full-time employees.

If you’re hiring seasonal employees, keep in mind:

  • State child labor laws differ so it’s important to become familiar with what is allowed – and not allowed in regard to ages, restrictions and allowable types of work for youths and teens 9 and older. Check your state’s website fir specifics.
  • Interns – paid or unpaid – should not be treated as replacement employees (even if just for a few months). Have specific tasks or activities designated just for them that would not ordinarily be done by a paid employee. Internships need to be for a specific length of time with no guarantee of a paid position later on.
  • Be specific about the job, what it entails and how it should be performed. Don’t differentiate between seasonal and year-round employees, everyone should adhere to company policies and rules and everyone should have their own copy of the company handbook.

Provide safety training at the beginning of employment to ensure seasonal employees understand workplace risks and hazards and what to do if they’re injured on the job.

Seasonal and part-time employees are subject to the same tax withholding rules that apply to other employees.

What other tips can you offer about managing seasonal hires?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Guest Blog: IT Problems? Virtual Desktops May Be the Answer [Infographic]



One major challenge most growing businesses face is keeping pace with IT expansion. As more workstations, servers, and devices are needed, infrastructure expenses and management costs may balloon out of control.

The key to IT flexibility is simplification, and one way to achieve this is by implementing virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). This technology allows you to shift your business away from a device-centered workspace (where your employees are tied to one machine to do their work) to a user-centered one (where employees can see and access the same digital environment regardless of the machine they’re using). 

Here’s a look at how virtual desktops work and how they may work for you:

VDI Technology

The VDI concept is fairly easy to understand—rather than having a workstation or device with a native 
operating system and applications, these things, along with user preferences, and files are stored remotely on a server. When users log in to any PC, tablet, or other device, they see the same “virtual machine” regardless of where they’re working from. 

You may have used virtual desktops at a library, university, or other organization that handles a large number of users. No matter which computer you use at a VDI-enabled institution, you have access to the same operating system, applications, and files.

How It Can Help Small Businesses

  • Management complexity – Rather than having to take the time to update and patch each computer individually, IT managers can push changes through all at once.
  • Bring your own device – Employees can log in to the device they choose without losing access to important files and programs.
  • Mobile productivity – Virtual desktops make it easier for employees to work at home or on the go.
  • Security – Data is easier to secure since it is centralized. You won’t need to worry if employees lose a laptop, for instance, since no information was ever directly stored on that machine.
  • Disaster recovery – VDI can help your company get up-and-running again quickly after an emergency since employees still have access to their workstation environments and files.
  • Infrastructure costs – Virtual, or “thin,” clients are generally less expensive to purchase and maintain than full workstations.

Companies that have implemented VDI report the following results:
  • 11% reduction in desktop support spending
  • 20% reduction in time spent on routine maintenance
  • 23% reduction in desktop downtime
  • 73% reduction in average recovery time

Cautions

Virtual desktop infrastructure is not right for every small business. There are some upfront costs to this  technology, and you may not see an immediate return on investment. Where most companies see a benefit is in reduced administration time and costs.

Are you using VDI or a similar technology in your small business? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Matt Smith works for Dell, a BBB Accredited Business since 1989, and has a passion for learning and writing about technology. Outside of work he enjoys entrepreneurship, being with his family, and the outdoors.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Building a Facebook Page That Works to Your Business' Benefit

Social media has become a dominating force in the eyes of today’s consumer. From YouTube to Facebook, consumers are turning to social media sites now more than ever to get more deeply connected to a business.

A Facebook page can serve as an eye catching way to lure in potential customers – if used correctly. Making sure that your website is up-to-date and fresh is the first step to having a solid, successful Facebook page. Don’t make the mistake of having your Facebook page serve as your only online presence. An eye catching Facebook page is a great way to complement your business’ website.

BBB recommends the following to small businesses that are looking to grow their Facebook presence:

Keep your page fresh, lively and interactive. When posting to Facebook make sure to keep your audience in mind. What would they like to know and what do they need to know? Are you offering any special deals, rewards or promotions? All comments should be kept positive and sincere. Consider polling your audience with a question of the day or week to keep them engaged and feeling valued. 

A picture (and video) is worth a thousand words. Make sure to keep the communication light and avoid talking at your audience. Try mixing it up by adding pictures and videos with fun,telling captions to reel in your audience. 

Spread the love. By becoming fans and “liking” your business partners, vendors and sponsors, you can not only grow your own constituency, but gain more eyes on your work. 

Share the wealth of knowledge. Informative postings that are in-line with your business are a great way to show your followers that you are up-to-date and keeping with the trends of the industry. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Spring Cleaning? What to Keep and What to Shred


The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) says it can’t tell you when it is safe to throw away financial documents, but they do say to keep the information as long as the IRS can assess you additional taxes. Right now, that is approximately seven years. Laws change. Always check with your CPA for the latest laws.

Here are some guidelines:

Credit card statements:
Credit card statements with no tax or other long-term significance can be discarded after one year; remaining statements should be kept for up to seven years. If a consumer receives a detailed annual statement, they should keep it and shred the corresponding monthly statements.

Bank account statements:
Check with your financial institution to determine how far back they keep statements available to you.

Canceled checks:
If purchases are tax related, keep canceled checks seven years. If they are related to your house purchase, renovations, or big items that you purchased, keep them indefinitely. Canceled checks that support tax returns, such as charitable contributions or tax payments, should be held for at least seven years. By the way, banks are required to keep copies of checks for seven years.

Deposit, ATM, credit card, and debit card receipts:
Consumers should save credit, debit, and ATM receipts until the transaction appears on their statement and they have verified that the information is accurate. If it is for a big item and it has a warranty, save the receipt at least until the warranty is up. You might want to save it longer for insurance and/or IRS reasons, if there is a disaster.

Credit card contracts and other loan agreements:
Credit card contracts and loan agreements should be kept for as long as the account is active in case the consumer has a dispute with their lender over the terms of the contract.

Documentation of a purchase or sale of stocks, bonds, and other investments:
Investors should retain documentation of a purchase or sale for as long as they own the investment and then seven years beyond that time. Monthly retirement and monthly investment account statements can be shredded annually after being reconciled with the year-end statement.

Paycheck stubs:
Paycheck stubs can be shredded yearly after the income has been reconciled with a W-2 or other tax forms.

Utility or monthly bills:
Monthly bills should be shredded the year after being received by the consumer. This way, if it’s a power bill, for example, consumers can compare this month’s bill to last year’s bill for any major changes before shredding it.

Electronic Records:
Make sure you back up your data. Technology is always changing. Make sure you are using a method that allows the information to be retrieved.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Bitcoin: The Internet Currency


Shoppers regularly hand over credit cards when checking out, but a new form of digital currency, called Bitcoin, is increasing in popularity. In fact, the value of all bitcoins in circulation is approximately $1.3 billion in United States currency—a number that simply cannot be ignored.

Our friends at the Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington offer insight into this new “cryptocurrency.”

What is Bitcoin? Bitcoin is a digital currency which allows anonymous and instant peer-to-peer payments. The Bitcoin system uses a shared public log called a blockchain, which contains all verified payment records in chronological order—allowing everyone on the network to see every transaction.

Where do bitcoins come from? Bitcoins are intangible and must be digitally “mined.” Computers connected to the Bitcoin network compete against each other to find solutions to extremely complex mathematical equations, the first to crack the equation is awarded with freshly minted digital coins. There is a set ceiling of 21 million bitcoins and it is expected that they will all be unlocked by 2140.

How can bitcoins be used? Computer programs and smartphone applications allow users to anonymously exchange real money for bitcoins and many retailers—both online and offline—now accept bitcoins as payment for goods and services.

Are there any dangers to using Bitcoin? Bitcoin is not backed by any single government or organization; its value is recognized solely by its users—consumers and businesses. The Bitcoin exchange rate fluctuates continuously, making it high-risk currency.

Will you consider accepting bitcoins as a source of payment? Let us know what you think in the comments. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hiring Staff: Common Hiring Mistakes

Welcome back to the final installment of a four part mini series of blog posts on hiring staff! Please check back each week for a new entry.

Not checking references. With the applicant's permission, contact their list of references to find out if he or she has the proper skills and attitude for the job. Sometimes employers will not discuss the job performance or attributes of ex-employees, but they should be willing to confirm the employee's name, date of employment, title and salary. It is always helpful to ask whether the employer would consider rehiring that person. They can give a straight "yes" or "no" answer, without elaborating.

Not consulting the right people in-house. If the new hire will be working closely with other employees, you may want to solicit their input before making a hiring decision. When current employees have the chance to meet with a prospective candidate, they may have an easier time developing a productive rapport with "the new person."

Not treating candidates with respect. Be courteous and respectful to each person that you interview. Remember, even if you don't end of hiring that person, they may be a future customer and will definitely tell others about their perceptions of your business. Or, you may have need of that person's skill set in the future so it's good to leave them with a positive impression. Always thank the candidate for his or her time and interest. Finally, explain the selection process and offer a realistic time frame for when a decision will be made.

Failing to put everything in writing. Once you've made an job offer and it's been accepted, put everything that you negotiate with your new hire (salary, job description, the parameters for bonuses and performance evaluation criteria, start date, non-compete clauses, etc.) in writing.

Picking the wrong temp agency (or independent contractor), if you go that route. You should carefully check the reputation of several temp agencies (or independent contractors), before selecting one with whom to do business. Find out how long the service has been in operation and what its performance record has been. Check with other clients to see if they like the agency. Reputable agencies are happy to provide client references. Also, ask if the agency is insured – for workers' compensation and general liability. Finally, contact the BBB for a reliability report on the company or contractor.

FINALLY, Keep ‘em Happy! 
You've taken the time and trouble to hire a qualified employee, one who can add value to your business and help your venture to succeed. Do not assume that your job is done! A major personnel cost for any size business is employee turnover. Your goal now should be to retain that employee. If you don't take the time to nurture a new hire and make clear your expectations, you will spend even more time, money and effort on the other end having to find a replacement.

Treating your employee fairly and with respect will help to ensure a productive working relationship that is of benefit to you and your business. Satisfied employees are usually energetic and tend to be highly motivated. In addition to paying them a competitive salary, there are other factors key to employee retention. Keep them informed and engaged; let them know you value their contributions; give acknowledgement for a job well done; clearly communicate your expectations and offer regular feedback on their job performance; and, provide the tools and training resources they may need to do the job right and to advance in their field of expertise.

FOR MORE INFORMATION on Hiring Staff 
The U.S. Department of Justice (www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.html) offers information on hiring under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov) offers facts and guidance on various forms of employment discrimination.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov) was created specifically to assist and counsel small businesses. Its Web site offers information for small businesses on managing your business for growth, and includes tips on how to select the "right" person for your business.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Companies Beware of Business Directory Scams

Your Better Business Bureau is warning businesses to be on the lookout for invoices from a company called AYPR Inc. which claims to be based in Duluth, Minnesota. Those who have complained state that the company is billing for services they did not order or authorize. The company has an F rating due to questionable business practices and a pattern of complaints.

AYPR Inc. claims to publish business directories and attempts to charge companies for being listed or featured in those directories. However, in many schemes of this nature, businesses are tricked into paying for services for which they weren't interested or were not aware they would be charged. Often times the invoice provides the name of an actual employee (either present or former) who “authorized” the charges. In many cases, the employee is not in a position to authorize purchases.

In addition to the Duluth address, which is actually a mail shipping and services store according the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota, AYPR claims to have addresses in: Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Utah & Wisconsin.

Here’s how directory schemes often work. An employee is contacted usually by fax and asked to fill out a few vague questions to confirm basic company information. What the employee doesn’t realize is that by simply providing this information, they open the door to future billings. The faxes contain fine print stating that by signing and returning the form, the business is agreeing to be charged and listed in the directory, which may or may not even exist. The business is often invoiced for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

These scammers sometimes pretend to be verifying or renewing a company’s “existing” directory listing. They send urgent invoices, create confusion and count on an organization paying to avoid being hounded. When companies refuse to pay, the scammers use high-pressure tactics such as bullying, threatening collection or legal action.


BBB and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have the following tips to avoid being the victim of a scam:

  • Designate only certain employees to make company purchases.
  • Train your staff to direct calls to only employees authorized to order supplies and services.
  • Check all documentation before you pay bills. Make sure you intentionally purchased the items for which you have been billed.
  • Know your rights. If you receive supplies or invoices for services you didn’t order, don’t pay. It’s illegal for a seller to invoice you, send threatening notices for merchandise you didn’t order or ask you to return the merchandise.
  • Report fraud. Report this type of scam to the BBB, the FTC, the Postal Inspection Service and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hiring Staff: How to Recruit Staff and Conduct Interviews

Welcome back to the third installment of a four part mini series of blog posts on hiring staff! Please check back each week for a new entry.

How to Recruit Staff 
There are several ways to find a pool of qualified applicants. If you're not in a hurry, one "low cost" way to spread the word about your job opening is to "cast a net" among your circle of friends, family members and business colleagues. Circulate at local business or industry get-togethers and mention that you are looking for somebody who would be interested in working for a small business or start-up venture. Let them know you have an opening, in case they are interested or can pass the word along to someone who may want to consider a job switch.

If you decide to place an ad, write enticing copy that will attract the type of candidate you are seeking. Describe the position, key qualifications and any other relevant information that would attract qualified candidates. Place it in a local newspaper or trade publication or list your opening on a job posting Web site (there are local and national job databases) that is likely to be frequented by target candidates. If you are a start-up venture, mention that in the ad, to attract the type of person who is comfortable with the risks associated with launching a new business.

How to Conduct Interviews 
Lots of people look good on paper. Lots of resumes include exaggerations. It is always best to interview several candidates. If you have a lot of candidates to weed through, it may be more efficient to conduct brief phone interviews first to screen out unqualified candidates, quickly identity those applicants that appear suitably qualified, and then schedule follow-up in person interviews. Whether interviewing by phone or in person, the following suggestions will help to ensure a smooth and productive interview process.

Avoid asking any questions that would be considered illegal or inappropriate (such as your potential employee's race, sexual orientation, marital status, religion or child-bearing plans). Confine your questions to topics that relate to the job. [For additional information regarding questions that employment experts regard as "off-limits" for discussion in an interview, visit the Small Business Administration Web site at www.sba.gov/managing/growth/interview.html.

Be organized and consistent. In fact, it's best to have a list of 10-12 questions that you use with each interviewee. The questions should elicit information concerning the candidate's skills, abilities, and past work experiences. Jot down detailed notes as the interview proceeds. The notes will make it easier for you to remember individual candidates when it's time to make your decision.

Act professional and be forthright. The interview should have a businesslike atmosphere and you should conduct yourself accordingly. Interviews are not the time to be vague or distracted. Be upfront about the nature of your business, the job duties, the workplace atmosphere, your management style and any other factors that will help you and the candidate decide if they would be a good fit.

Remember, an interview is a two-way street. Don't do all the talking. You should spend the majority of the interview listening. After you ask a question, look at the applicant and really listen to how she or he responds and what they have to say. Observe their non-verbal behavior and choice of words. You should be striving to get a feel for their personality and work attitude, in addition to their skills set. Be sure to ask if he or she has any questions before you end the interview.

When you meet in person, ask the applicant to "show" as well as "tell." Ask them to show you how they would handle specific work situations. If you are hiring an administrative assistant, ask the candidate to turn on the computer and compose a letter. If you are hiring a marketing person, ask them to role-play being a sales person for one of your competitors.

To read part two about what to do before you hire new employees, please visit http://bbb-business-news.blogspot.com/2013/04/hiring-staff-before-you-start-search.html

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Beware of Business Identity Theft

The most sophisticated identity thieves are now pursuing even bigger payoffs by targeting businesses. Because businesses have higher credit limits and make larger purchases than consumers, charges by scammers are less likely to be noticed by owners, accountants and creditors.


ID theft aimed at stealing directly from a business isn’t the only type of commercial identity theft. Another form of business identity theft happens when a scammer poses as the company in order to rip off unsuspecting consumers. Following are examples of common business identity theft schemes identified by BBB.

Defrauding the Business
A crafty ID thief can do a lot of damage with a company’s Employer Identification Number, including gaining access to bank and credit card accounts or opening up new lines of credit under the business’s name. Business identity theft can also be perpetrated by scammers—and sometimes even employees—who purchase items in the company’s name either for personal use or to resell.

Phishing E-mails
Phishing e-mails are a common example of business ID theft, and all are designed to defraud consumers. Phishing e-mails are spam disguised as messages from a business or government agency, and are used to coerce sensitive financial information from the recipient or to install malware and viruses on recipients’ computers.

Defrauding Consumers
In many cases, criminals will hijack a company’s name and reputation to commit consumer fraud, such as advance fee loan or lottery scams. Scammers use and leverage the company’s identity and good reputation to create a trustworthy fa├žade behind which they operate their scam. In BBB’s experience, business owners are usually alerted to the identity theft by angry consumers who were ripped off by the scammers.

Following are steps BBB recommends small business owners take to mitigate harm if their business identity has been stolen.

Alert the Authorities
Business owners need to immediately contact their local police department if they believe the company’s identity has been compromised. In some cases where bank or credit accounts have been compromised, law enforcement investigators may want the accounts to remain open in order to track down the thieves. If scammers are using the company’s name on phishing e-mails or with phony Web sites, business owners can also contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Alert Bank and Credit Card Companies
If scammers are accessing the business’s credit or bank accounts, forging company checks or opening up new lines of credit, it’s important for a small business owner to notify financial institutions involved in order to limit any further unauthorized transactions. Before closing any accounts, the business owners will want to receive the go-ahead from law enforcement so as not to jeopardize ongoing investigations.

Alert the Public
If the company’s identity has been stolen and is being used to rip off customers, warning the public is a top priority to prevent additional people from becoming victims. An easy first step is to prominently post a warning on the company’s home page briefly explaining the threat. Depending on the scope of the scam, business owners might also want to consider alerting media or making direct contact with customers via phone or e-mail. Businesses can also contact their BBB  for help in getting information out to consumers quickly.

Review Credit Report
If the business is a sole proprietorship, then the same consumer protections apply as if an individual’s ID were stolen—such as access to free credit reports and the ability to place a fraud alert on the report. Unfortunately for most businesses, monitoring their credit history is not that easy. Business credit reports exist; however, they don’t typically include the information necessary for detecting fraud. Small and medium-size enterprises can, however, increase internal controls and monitoring of accounts in order to better track abuses. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Employment Tax Schemes – A Way to Save Money and Land in Prison


BBB encourages business owners to be intimately involved in tax filing and payment processes – including knowing all of the details if a third-party is handling the process on behalf of the business.

Also, BBB is advising businesses to be aware of six common ways companies have gotten into hot water for employment tax non-compliance. 

Hiring unreliable third-party payers
Most payroll service providers and professional employer organizations provide upstanding service. But there are some less-than-reputable third-party payers who fail to pay the collected taxes to the IRS. Employers should check with BBB (www.bbb.org) to find a trustworthy third-party payer, and once hired, regularly verify that payments are being made on their behalf.

Believing frivolous arguments
Unscrupulous promoters use misleading arguments to encourage businesses to avoid paying employment taxes. Don’t fall victim to incorrect interpretations of tax laws or the improper use of Form 941c to attempt to secure a refund of previously-paid employment taxes.

Offshore employee leasing schemes
Don’t do business with shady promoters affiliated with offshore companies who misuse the otherwise legal business practice of employee leasing. Consult with reputable legal and tax experts before entering into employee leasing arrangements.

Misclassifying worker status
Don’t be tempted to incorrectly treat employees as independent contractors to avoid paying employment taxes. If the employer has the right to control what work will be done and how it will be done, the worker is an employee.

Paying employees in cash
There is nothing wrong with compensating an employee in cash, as long as the business recognizes that employment taxes are owed regardless of how the employee is paid.

Filing false payroll tax returns
Preparing false payroll tax returns or understating the amount of wages on which taxes are owed is illegal.