A recent survey published by VISA and the US National Cyber Security Alliance said that 85% of small business owners think that they are at less risk of being targeted by cyber-criminals than big firms, and 50% of those interviewed said that what risk there is doesn’t justify the cost of securing their business.
Charles Conway, web designer and editor of scam awareness website Scam Detectives doesn’t agree. He believes that small businesses are actually more at risk of being ripped off. That’s why he’s launched a new book exposing the methods used by hi-tech criminals to part hard working business owners from their cash, giving practical advice and tips on how you can secure your IT systems, train your staff and arm yourself with the knowledge to outwit the scammers.
We had a chat with Charles about how he came to launch Scam Detectives, the idea behind the book, and some of the online risks faced by businesses in today’s Global online marketplace.
Scam Detectives has become a hugely popular website, what prompted you to build the website in the first place?
The website started, as many projects do, with a throwaway comment. My wife came home from work one day telling me about a colleague who had bought a load of Christmas presents online but hadn’t received them. It became obvious that her friend had no idea what to look for when shopping online. “Why don’t you build a website to help people like her” said Christine. A month later I launched Scam Detectives and the rest, as they say, is history!” We’re now attracting over 5,000 readers every week.
I’m sure many Tradespacers would like to know how you’ve attracted so many readers to a site that’s only been online for just over a year. What’s your secret?
There’s no “magic bullet” but I’ve been very lucky. The media has taken a real interest in what we’re doing, and I’ve appeared on a number of radio shows talking about current scams and giving advice on how Internet users can stay safe. Back in July, Scam Detectives was shortlisted for a Nominet Internet Award in the “making the Internet safer” category alongside BeatBullying, The Vodafone Parent’s Guide, E-Crime Wales and the Business Crime Reduction Partnership, which was a fantastic achievement for such a new project. We’ve also featured on the BBC news website and have loads of press clippings in our scrapbook!
The online community has also been fantastic, really getting behind Scam Detectives and featuring the content on their own websites and blogs. Twitter and Facebook have played their part too, along with BT Tradespace of course!
What are the major online threats facing business owners right now, and what can they do to protect themselves?
Whilst awareness of scams such as “phishing” and advance fee fraud is growing, people are still falling for them and losing significant amounts of money. Scammers are getting smarter and varying their approach drastically to catch people off-guard, so whilst a business owner may delete an email from an “exiled Nigerian ex-President”, an opportunity to help a foreign firm invest a large amount of money in the UK in return for a hefty commission could be very tempting.
Businesses are now quite used to receiving email enquiries from all over the world, so it’s quite commonplace to be approached by a potential client from the other side of the world, and it’s easy to be blinded by the chance of earning a quick profit and to take these emails at face value.
Corporate Identity Theft seems to be very much on the rise at the moment too, with hacked email accounts being used to place large orders with suppliers which to all intents and purposes seem perfectly legitimate, until the client queries the invoice at the end of the month.
Businesses also need to be very aware of threats to their IT security which could come from within, with naive members of staff accidentally downloading viruses or spyware from social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, incorrectly using email in a way that could expose your business to a fine for breaching data protection, or even using seemingly innocent electronics like mp3 players, smartphones and digital cameras to steal sensitive Company data for their own ends.
The biggest threat however is complacency. The moment a business owner starts to think “But it couldn’t happen to me” is the moment that they become most at risk of being targeted by cybercriminals intent on taking them for a ride.
There’s plenty that business owners can do to protect themselves but the key is education. If you and your staff know what “red flags” indicate a scam, how to recognise dodgy links on social networking sites and what subtle indicators they should be looking for when placing (or receiving) an order online, that’s half the battle.
You’ve just launched a new book aimed at helping businesses to stay safe online. What’s it all about?
The book’s called “Scammers, Spammers & Social Engineers: A Scam Detectives guide to keeping your business safe online”. Basically, it’s the culmination of a year’s work investigating scams and social engineering techniques, talking to victims and scammers alike, to get an inside look at how businesses are targeted, how the scams work and what businesses can do to protect themselves.
Over 8 chapters, the book explores the threats that could emanate from within your own organization, looking at how your own staff could use your IT systems to steal money or sensitive data, or accidentally infect your systems with viruses and malware, the risks of allowing your staff unrestricted access to social media websites, other ways that viruses and malware could infect your systems and some of the scams that could lead to your business losing hard cash or goods to criminals who have no intention of paying you for them, or even land an unwary entrepreneur in serious trouble with the authorities. As well as explaining the techniques used by scammers and hackers, I’ve outlined some practical, inexpensive steps that any business can take to protect their systems and train their staff to be more security conscious.
Now you’ve got the book launched, what are your plans for developing the Scam Detectives project over the next year?
We have a lot of exciting stuff in the pipeline. I’m already writing my second book, which will look at scams that target consumers, and we’re very close to launching a suite of resources for primary schools to teach kids about how they can use the Internet safely, which has been trialled successfully in one school already. I’ve had some discussions with a couple of TV production companies and have just agreed to write a regular column in Spain’s largest English language newspaper, Euro Weekly News.
“Scammers, Spammers and Social Engineers: A Scam Detectives guide to keeping your business safe online” is available in paperback for only £9.99 plus P&P or in pdf format for only £7.99
You can buy it from the Scam Detectives website at www.scam-detectives.co.uk, where you’ll also find a huge amount of information about how you, your business and your family can stay safer when using the Internet.
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