Protecting Your Business From Fraud

Protect your business from con artists who try to fool you into paying for office supplies, business directory listings, or Internet services you haven’t ordered.

The above is an excerpt from the article, “Crisis Communications Plan.” For more information, please visit


Contact and Information Centers: Essential For Proper Crisis Communications


Communications before, during and following an emergency is bi-directional. Stakeholders or audiences will ask questions and request information. The business will answer questions and provide information. This flow of information should be managed through a communications hub.


Crisis Communications Hub & Spoke Diagram – Text Version

Contact and Information Centers form the “hub” of the crisis communications plan. The centers receive requests for information from each audience and disseminate information to each audience. Employees from multiple departments may be assigned to communicate with a specific audience.

The “contact center” fields inquiries from customers, suppliers, the news media and others. The contact center should be properly equipped and staffed by personnel to answer requests for information. The staff working within the contact center should be provided with scripts and a “frequently asked questions” (FAQ) document to answer questions consistently and accurately.


Crisis Communications Hub and Spoke Diagram


The “information center” consists of existing staff and technologies (e.g., website, call center, bulletin boards, etc.) that field requests for information from customers, employees and others during normal business hours. The information center and its technologies can be used to push information out to audiences and post information for online reading.

The crisis communications team, consisting of members of the management team, should operate in an office environment to support the contact and information centers. The offices may be clustered near the emergency operations center or at an alternate site if the primary site cannot be occupied. The goal of the crisis communications team is to gather information about the incident. This should include monitoring the types of questions posed to call center operators or staff in the office; emails received by customer service; social media chatter or stories broadcast by the news media. Using this input, the crisis communications team can inform management about the issues that are being raised by stakeholders. In turn, management should provide input into the messages generated by the crisis communications team. The team can then create appropriate messages and disseminate information approved for release.

The above is an excerpt from the article, “Crisis Communications Plan.” For more information, please visit

How can I protect my business from business directory scams?


Take the following four steps to protect your company from business directory fraud.

  1. Train your staff to spot this scam. Educate your employees about how this scam works. In addition to your regular receptionist, talk to everyone who may pick up the phone. Put a copy of this alert in employee mailboxes. Mention it in a staff meeting. Post it on the break room bulletin board or where employees clock in and out.
  2. Inspect your invoices. Depending on the size and nature of your business, consider implementing a purchase order system to make sure you’re paying only legitimate expenses. At a minimum, designate a small group of employees with authority to approve purchases and pay the bills. Train your team to send all inquiries to them. Compile a list of the companies you typically use for directory services, office supplies, and other recurring expenses. Encourage the people who pay the bills to develop a “show me” attitude when it comes to unexpected invoices from companies they’re not familiar with. Don’t pay for products or services you’re not sure you ordered.
  3. Verify to clarify. Many business directory scam artists are headquartered in Canada, but use post office boxes or mail drops to make it look like they are in the United States. Before paying, check them out for free at, and read the BBB’s report on them.
  4. File a complaint. If a scammer is sending you bogus bills, speak up. Visit to complain to the BBB. And let the FTC know by filing a complaint at or calling 877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). Your complaints help shape the FTC’s law enforcement agenda, so it’s important to sound off when you spot a scam. Concerned about business directory fraudsters’ threats to tarnish your credit if you don’t pay? Many will simply drop the matter — and may even provide a refund — if they know you’ve complained to the BBB and law enforcement.
The above is an excerpt from the article, “Throwing the Book at Business Directory Scams.” For more information, please visit

Crisis Communication: Constructing a Message


During and following an incident, each audience will seek information that is specific to them. “How does the incident affect my order, job, safety, community…?” These questions need to be answered when communicating with each audience.

After identifying the audiences and the spokesperson assigned to communicate with each audience, the next step is to script messages. Writing messages during an incident can be challenging due to the pressure caused by “too much to do” and “too little time.” Therefore, it is best to script message templates in advance if possible.

Pre-scripted messages should be prepared using information developed during the risk assessment. The risk assessment process should identify scenarios that would require communications with stakeholders. There may be many different scenarios but the need for communications will relate more to the impacts or potential impacts of an incident:

  • accidents that injure employees or others
  • property damage to company facilities
  • liability associated injury to or damage sustained by others
  • production or service interruptions
  • chemical spills or releases with potential off-site consequences, including environmental
  • product quality issues

Messages should be scripted to address the specific needs of each audience, which may include:

Customer – “When will I receive my order?” “What will you give me to compensate for the delay?”

Employee – “When should I report to work?” “Will I have a job?” “Will I get paid during the shutdown or can I collect unemployment?” “What happened to my co-worker?” “What are you going to do to address my safety?” “Is it safe to go back to work?”

Government Regulator – “When did it happen?” “What happened (details about the incident)?” “What are the impacts (injuries, deaths, environmental contamination, safety of consumers, etc.)?”

Elected Official – “What is the impact on the community (hazards and economy)?” “How many employees will be affected?” “When will you be back up and running?”

Suppliers – “When should we resume deliveries and where should we ship to?”

Management – “What happened?” “When did it happen?” “Was anyone injured?” “How bad is the property damage?” “How long do you think production will be down?”

Neighbors in the Community – “How can I be sure it’s safe to go outside?” “What are you going to do to prevent this from happening again?” “How do I get paid for the loss I incurred?”

News Media – “What happened?” “Who was injured?” “What is the estimated loss?” “What caused the incident?” “What are you going to do to prevent it from happening again?” “Who is responsible?”

Messages can be pre-scripted as templates with blanks to be filled in when needed. Pre-scripted messages can be developed, approved by the management team and stored on a remotely accessible server for quick editing and release when needed.

Another important element of the crisis communications plan is the need to coordinate the release of information. When there is an emergency or a major impact on the business, there may be limited information about the incident or its potential impacts. The “story” may change many times as new information becomes available.

One of the aims of the crisis communication plan is to ensure consistency of message. If you tell one audience one story and another audience a different story, it will raise questions of competency and credibility. Protocols need to be established to ensure that the core of each message is consistent while addressing the specific questions from each audience.

Another important goal of the crisis communications plan is to move from reacting to the incident, to managing a strategy, to overcome the incident. Management needs to develop the strategy and the crisis communications team needs to implement that strategy by allaying the concerns of each audience and positioning the organization to emerge from the incident with its reputation intact.

The above is an excerpt from the article, “Crisis Communications Plan.” For more information, please visit

Business Directory Scams: How the Scam Works


The Call. First, con artists make cold calls to offices. They ask the person answering the phone to “confirm” the address, telephone number, and other information, claiming it’s for a listing the company has in the yellow pages or a similar business directory. The scammers then fire off a rapid series of questions they may tape-record, sometimes sliding in a confusing reference to the cost. The scam works because fraudsters convince the person who picks up the phone that they’re just “verifying” an arrangement the company already has with the directory.

The Bill. The con artist then sends urgent “invoices” for $500 or more — sometimes including a copy of the “directory.” They’re usually worthless and are never distributed or promoted as promised. Often, they’re just websites with listings of various businesses. In many cases, the person paying the bills will simply cut a check, not realizing that the company never agreed to pay the hefty fee for the directory. But if businesses resist, the scammers turn up the heat, threatening collection or legal action to get payment. They may use the name of the person who answered the phone or play a “verification tape” as “proof” that the company owes them money. Often these tapes have been doctored or the nature of the transaction was rattled off in a way no one could have understood. If companies stand firm in their refusal to pay for services they didn’t authorize, the scammer may try to smooth things over by offering a phony discount. Or they may let the company return the directory — at the company’s own cost, of course — but insist on payment for the so-called listing. At this stage, many companies pay up just to stop the hounding. What they don’t know is that they’ll likely get more bogus invoices — either from the same scam artist or from others who have bought their contact information for a new scheme.

The above is an excerpt from the article, “Throwing the Book at Business Directory Scams.” For more information, please visit

Crisis Communication: Consider Your Audience


Understanding the audiences that a business needs to reach during an emergency is one of the first steps in the development of a crisis communications plan. There are many potential audiences that will want information during and following an incident and each has its own needs for information. The challenge is to identify potential audiences, determine their need for information and then identify who within the business is best able to communicate with that audience.

The following is a list of potential audiences.

  • Customers
  • Survivors impacted by the incident and their families
  • Employees and their families
  • News media
  • Community—especially neighbors living near the facility
  • Company management, directors and investors
  • Government elected officials, regulators and other authorities
  • Suppliers


Contact information for each audience should be compiled and immediately accessible during an incident. Existing information such as customer, supplier and employee contact information may be exportable from existing databases. Include as much information for each contact as possible (e.g., organization name, contact name, business telephone number, cell number, fax number and email address). Lists should be updated regularly, secured to protect confidential information and available to authorized users at the emergency operations center or an alternate location for use by members of the crisis communications team. Electronic lists can also be hosted on a secure server for remote access with a web browser. Hard copies of lists should also be available at the alternate location.


Customers are the life of a business, so contact with customers is a top priority. Customers may become aware of a problem as soon as their phone calls are not answered or their electronic orders are not processed. The business continuity plan should include action to redirect incoming telephone calls to a second call center (if available) or to a voice message indicating that the business is experiencing a temporary problem. The business continuity plan should also include procedures to ensure that customers are properly informed about the status of orders in process at the time of the incident.

Customer service or sales staff normally assigned to work with customers should be assigned to communicate with customers if there is an incident. If there are a lot of customers, then the list should be prioritized to reach the most important customers first.


The crisis communication or business continuity plan should include documented procedures for notification of suppliers. The procedures should identify when and how they should be notified.


Protocols for when to notify management should be clearly understood and documented. Consider events that occur on a holiday weekend or in the middle of the night. It should be clear to staff what situations require immediate notification of management regardless of the time of day. Similar protocols and procedures should be established for notification of directors, investors and other important stakeholders. Management does not want to learn about a problem from the news media.


Communications with government officials depends upon the nature and severity of the incident and regulatory requirements. Businesses that fail to notify a regulator within the prescribed time risk incurring a fine. OSHA regulations require notification to OSHA when there are three or more hospitalizations from an accident or if there is a fatality. Environmental regulations require notification if there is chemical spill or release that exceeds threshold quantities. Other regulators may need to be notified if there is an incident involving product tampering, contamination or quality. Notification requirements specified in regulations should be documented in the crisis communications plan.

A major incident in the community will capture the attention of elected officials. A senior manager should be assigned to communicate with elected officials and public safety officials.


Human Resources (HR) is responsible for the day-to-day communications with employees regarding employment issues and benefits administration. HR management should assume a similar role on the crisis communications team. HR should coordinate communications with management, supervisors, employees and families. HR should also coordinate communications with those involved with the care of employees and the provision of benefits to employees and their families. Close coordination between management, company spokesperson, public agencies and HR is needed when managing the sensitive nature of communications related to an incident involving death or serious injury.


If there are hazards at a facility that could impact the surrounding community, then the community becomes an important audience. If so, community outreach should be part of the crisis communications plan. The plan should include coordination with public safety officials to develop protocols and procedures for advising the public of any hazards and the most appropriate protective action that should be taken if warned.


If the incident is serious, then the news media will be on scene or calling to obtain details. There may be numerous requests for information from local, regional or national media. The challenge of managing large numbers of requests for information, interviews and public statements can be overwhelming. Prioritization of requests for information and development of press releases and talking points can assist with the need to communicate quickly and effectively.

Develop a company policy that only authorized spokespersons are permitted to speak to the news media. Communicate the policy to all employees explaining that it is best to speak with one informed voice.

Determine in advance who will speak to the news media and prepare that spokesperson with talking points, so they can speak clearly and effectively in terms that can be easily understood.

The above is an excerpt from the article, “Crisis Communications Plan.” For more information, please visit

How Can You Tell If You’re a Victim of a Business Directory Scam?


The smooth-talking voice on the other end of the line claims to need some information to “confirm” your existing phone book listing. Fast forward a few weeks and your mailbox is jammed with “invoices” threatening legal action if you don’t pay up. Chances are you’ve been hit by a business directory scam.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) have seen an increase in this form of fraud. Small and medium-sized businesses, churches, and not-for-profit groups have been hardest hit. Many will pay the bogus invoices in the mistaken belief that it’s simply a misunderstanding. But it’s not. It’s a growing form of fraud run by international scam artists.

The FTC and the BBB are asking businesses to:

  1. educate employees about the scam;
  2. set up systems to weed out bogus bills,
  3. use free BBB resources to check out questionable companies; and
  4.  report the scams so that law enforcers can stay ahead of the curve.
The above is an excerpt from the article, “Throwing the Book at Business Directory Scams.” For more information, please visit

Critical Components of a Crisis Communications Plan


When an emergency occurs, the need to communicate is immediate. If business operations are disrupted, customers will want to know how they will be impacted. Regulators may need to be notified and local government officials will want to know what is going on in their community. Employees and their families will be concerned and want information. Neighbors living near the facility may need information—especially if they are threatened by the incident. All of these “audiences” will want information before the business has a chance to begin communicating.

An important component of the preparedness program is the crisis communications plan. A business must be able to respond promptly, accurately and confidently during an emergency in the hours and days that follow. Many different audiences must be reached with information specific to their interests and needs. The image of the business can be positively or negatively impacted by public perceptions of the handling of the incident.

This step of Ready Business provides direction for developing a crisis communications plan. Understanding potential audiences is key, as each audience wants to know: “How does it affect me?” Guidance for scripting messages that are specific to the interests of the audience is another element of the plan. The Contact & Information Center tab explains how to use existing resources to gather and disseminate information during and following an incident.

The above is an excerpt from the article, “Crisis Communications Plan.” For more information, please visit

Loss Control And Insurance


Effective loss control—reducing the number and size of losses—may impact both the availability and affordability of insurance. 

A business that is indifferent to loss control may have a higher than average number of  insurance claims. A really poor loss history can make it difficult to find insurance. Conversely, businesses that actively manage risks, and thereby control losses, will have fewer claims and will often see those efforts rewarded with lower insurance premiums. 

The above is an excerpt from the article, “Loss Control And Insurance.” For more information, please visit

Checking Your Home for Biological Pollutants

There is no simple and cheap way to sample the air in your home to determine the level of all biological pollutants. Experts suggest that sampling for biological pollutants is not a useful problem-solving tool. Even if you had your home tested, it is almost impossible to know which biological pollutant(s) cause various symptoms or health problems. The amount of most biological substances required to cause disease is unknown and varies from one person to the next.

Does this make the problem sound hopeless? On the contrary, you can take several simple, practical actions to help remove sources of biological pollutants, to help get rid of pollutants, and to prevent their return.

Self-Inspection: A Walk Through Your Home

Begin by touring your household. Follow your nose, and use your eyes. Two major factors help create conditions for biological pollutants to grow nutrients and constant moisture with poor air circulation.

  • Dust and construction materials, such as wood, wallboard, and insulation, contain nutrients that allow biological pollutants to grow. Firewood also is a source of moisture, fungi, and bugs.
  • Appliances such as humidifiers, kerosene and gas heaters, and gas stoves add moisture to the air.
  • A musty odor, moisture on hard surfaces, or even water stains, may be caused by:


Air-conditioning units
Basements, attics, and crawlspaces
Heating and air-conditioning ducts
Humidifiers and dehumidifiers
Refrigerator drip pans

The above is an excerpt from the article, “Biological Pollutants in Your Home.” For more information, please visit