Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Scams and More Tricks Targeting Small Firms

Small business special: Don’t fall for fake SEO deals: Internet Scambusters #767

It used to be that if you wanted your small business to rank higher on Google and other Internet searches, you brought in a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist who’d deliver you on the front page of searches.

But the wizards behind these search engines have changed the way they work and those old SEO tactics no longer deliver.

But that hasn’t stopped scammers pretending they can move you up the search charts, as we explain in this week’s issue, which also explores other small business con tricks.

Now, here we go…

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Scams and More Tricks Targeting Small Firms

Are you a small business looking to improve your showing on Internet searches? Who isn’t these days?

But watch out for scammers making promises that they’ll get you to the top of a Google (or Bing, etc.) search. They can’t — or at least they can’t guarantee it. In fact, it’s highly likely they won’t get you anywhere near even the first page of a search.

As you likely know, the technique for achieving a high ranking on Google et al. is known as search engine optimization (SEO).

In the early days of the Internet, using a few simple SEO “tricks,” like cramming a page with content and keywords, and linking with other websites, were generally enough to score an SEO hit.

That doesn’t work today. Search engines like Google are much more sophisticated in the way they rank items.

But it doesn’t stop scammers from employing these ancient (in Internet terms) tactics.

A recent report on Forbes magazine website, for instance, notes that “scammers from all over the world insist on selling the same old bag of tricks to unsuspecting victims.”

But how can you spot the scam?

First, simply ignore their claims that they can take you to the top.

“Steer clear of those who make specific promises,” Forbes advises. “Search giants don’t deliver on cue and are not interested in catering to anyone in particular, other than the general masses. That’s not you.”

Another warning sign is when a so-called SEO specialist claims to have some kind of special arrangement or partnership with the search engine operators.

These sorts of arrangements simply don’t exist — except where advertisers actually pay big bucks for prominence alongside or at the top of a search (where they’re clearly marked as ads).

In fact, experts suggest that using old-style SEO techniques, such as links in otherwise meaningless online directories and forums, can actually harm search engine rankings, effectively penalizing the very organizations they’re supposed to be promoting.

Forbes adds: “SEO scammers typically target small businesses that have sparse resources as they offer little-to-no threat when they discover that they have been taken advantage of.

“They bought into outlandish promises, hoping to write a novel on their unlikely surge to the top, only to find out that they wasted their resources on something that may have been toxic to their business.”

The bottom line is that if you want to increase your search engine showing, you’ll likely have to employ a real expert. Expect to spend a lot of money. Even then, there are no guarantees.

Scam Advice for Small Firms

In the meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has announced the launch of a new campaign aimed specifically at helping small businesses avoid fraud, cyber-attacks and other scams.

A new website page includes links to videos and downloadable reports listing the most common small business scams, plus advice on franchising scams and protecting customer data.

Find the page at FTC’s Protecting Small Businesses.

It’s worth bookmarking and signing up for regular reports.

And it couldn’t be more timely.

Most Firms Hit by Fraud

A recent survey report from risk management specialists Kroll says that 82% of companies it polled were fraud victims last year.

But contrary to expectations, the majority of attacks didn’t come from overseas or even outside the business.

Sixty percent of all illegal access and data theft came from inside the organizations — employees, contract workers, and freelancers.

“With fraud, cyber, and security incidents becoming the new normal for companies all over the world, it’s clear that organizations need to have systemic processes in place to prevent, detect, and respond to these risks if they are to avoid reputational and financial damage,” Kroll says.

Facebook Scam

Scammers have also started targeting small businesses, especially solo operators or firms with just a couple of employees via Facebook.

The main tactic is to offer business loans or even grants.

This is more or less the same as fake “free money” offers that are sent out to individual consumers, usually pretending to come from a government agency.

But government grant programs don’t work this way and certainly don’t offer money via Facebook. Nor do they request recipients to pay a fee upfront or provide bank details, as the scammers do.

So give these “offers” a miss.

High Speed Trickery

Another trick that is passing from consumers to small firms and other organizations is a scam we reported on a few weeks back in which victims receive a product they haven’t ordered.

It’s a high-speed piece of trickery that goes something like this:

A company receives a product, usually an expensive electronics item from a well-known retailer via a shipping service or tracked mail.

(In other words, the scammer knows when it has been delivered by checking the tracking number.)

Immediately, the firm receives a call from the scammer posing as the retailer, saying the item has been sent out in error and will be collected by a courier service.

The courier, of course, is the crook or an associate. The victim hands over the item, meaning it’s no longer traceable.

But as far as the real retailer is concerned, the item has been delivered to the correct address and the victim company faces having to pay the bill. Indeed, the bill may already have been paid via a stolen credit card or a hacked company account.

If your business receives something it didn’t order, contact the retailer yourself immediately and deal only with them in arranging the return of the item.

Alert of the Week

What would you do if you were crawling along in your car when a pedestrian pointed at one of your wheels, suggesting there was a problem.

If you jump out to check, lock your car first — otherwise an accomplice may get in and steal whatever is on the passenger seat or even drive off in your vehicle.

It happens, believe us.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!