Internet Phishing Scams - Keep Cyber Thieves Away from Your Small Business

Phishing scams remain one of the most lucrative crimes for online cyber criminals. News reports of sensitive data from large corporations like Sony being jeopardized are increasing at a worrying rate. But contrary to popular belief, these phishing scams are just as hazardous for small business owners.

Over 300,000 complaints were filed in 2010 to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the National White Collar Crime Center and the FBI.  These complaints were from small businesses and individuals victimized by online phishing scams and various other Internet related crimes.

To give you a better comprehension as to why your small business is of great worth to a cyber criminal, let's take a look at what phishing is exactly. 

What is phishing?

What does "phishing" mean? Phishing is the endeavor to access private data, such as financial information, usernames, and passwords. This is accomplished by making false websites, graphics, email accounts, and phone numbers. The subject is persuaded, by one method or another, to reveal these types of data that may be used to steal their identity (social security numbers are a popular target). For small businesses, phishing scams may attempt to gain access to customer credit card information. 

Examples of small business phishing scams

Thousands of small business owners have been sent emails by an entity using incredibly realistic IRS-looking letters stating that W-4 forms or other additional forms must be filled out and returned via fax.  This frightened many owners into believing they would be audited or penalized by the IRS for not handling the issue immediately. Unfortunately, they were fake emails and these companies were fooled out of their personal information.

At the official website,, the IRS states that it will not contact companies through email first. Beware and use caution before clicking on a link claiming to be from them.

Your company email can be a target

Another way these thieves gain information is by concentrating on a specific person within a business by sending him or her some kind of fake communication that looks completely respectable but ends up releasing a virus or malware. This virus then infects the entire network, giving thieves access to private company data. 

Phone phishing

Phone phishing refers to deceptive phone calls where thieves pose as banks and request the victim to “verify” account numbers over the phone in order to steal confidential information.

How to protect your business against phishing

The Anti-Phishing Work Group offers wonderful advice on how to keep your small business from becoming a target of phishing. Here are a few of their tips:

  • Make sure your employees are aware of what phishing scams are, and are cautious when reading and responding to suspicious emails.  Always err on the side of caution.  Instead of clicking a link, open another browser window and go to the official website.
  • Never give out company financial information such as bank routing numbers to an inquiry made via email.  Your bank does not need you to confirm your account information...they already have that. An email like that even if it has your bank's logo is a fake. Make it a habit to check your accounts regularly for suspicious charges and withdrawals.
  • Make sure every computer used has up-to-date virus and malware protection.  Schedule regular full system scans.  Never download "anti-virus" software from an unknown entity. It's better to stick with trusted brands.

The best way to protect oneself and colleagues from these scams is to be aware of the methods one can use to identify a scam and stay on top of the latest news on the issue.