“When you got off the escalator, did you turn
right or left?”
It’s Kathy’s go to question when someone phones
her retail clothing store demanding a refund. The question seems innocuous
enough. Kathy explained to me recently that people often call her store,
claiming they purchased merchandise, set the bag down, and forgot it in the
store – could they please have their money back. So, Kathy would ask the
customer questions about where they could have set down their purchase.
And here’s the genius of her signature question:
there in no escalator in Kathy’s store.
You see, most of the people calling with the odd
“forgot my purchase” narrative are actually scammers. They want a credit or
cash back for a transaction that never happened. With so many employees at the
clothing store, a con artist was bound to find the right one to fall for the
trick. That’s when Kathy came up with the question.
“Every time, the person on the phone would say
that they either went right or left,” Kathy explains. “And that’s how we knew
right away that they had not actually shopped with us.”
I met Kathy recently at a Chamber of Commerce
event. I was giving a presentation about scam prevention for small businesses.
After some particularly dense slides, I like to give the audience members a
chance to tell me about the scams they are seeing and hearing about. That’s
when Kathy told me her genius strategy to outsmart con artists.
I appreciate the Kathys of the world: the business
owners and employees who get creative to keep their companies safe. I often say
warning the public about scams in my role with the Better Business Bureau is a
bit like whack-a-mole. You spread the word about one horrible con and the next
pops up to fill the void. Frankly, talking about scams until I’m blue in the
face is exhausting. So, when Kathy piped up, I wanted to do a little dance
right there on the spot. Thankfully for my audience, I didn’t share my awful
moves that early Wednesday morning.
But in the days and weeks after my presentation, I
kept thinking about Kathy. You see, I tire of talking about scams because I’m
sick of hardworking neighbors, friends and business contacts being scammed – or
We all know that scams can impact every business, regardless
of location, size, or industry. Our research here at the Better Business Bureau
suggests that scam activity directed at small businesses is growing, that these
scams pose a significant risk, and that they can result in a higher monetary
loss than scams targeting individuals. At BBB, we take our job of creating a
safer, healthier marketplace very seriously. We know that the top five scams
impacting small businesses are: Bank/Credit Card
Company Imposter, Directory Listing and Advertising, Fake Invoice/ Supplier
Bill, Fake Check and Tech Support.
But what we don’t know (until we’re told) is all
the ingenious ways businesses in our backyard are being proactive about their
own safety. We don’t know Kathy’s escalator trick, until she tells us. Sure, we
always brag that our BBB Accredited Businesses are the most trustworthy around.
But Kathy reminded me how dang clever they are, too.
And I, for one, am happy to have Kathy on my
For more information on how to keep your business
safe from scammers, visit bbb.org/smallbizscams.