BBB Wisconsin warns businesses of email scam requesting to do business

The Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin is warning businesses of emails that appear to be a solicitation for business, but ask for bank account information in order to “make payment.”

A Madison-based restaurant recently notified BBB Wisconsin of an unsolicited email it received from an individual claiming to work for a “small health volunteer group” requesting to place a large food order.  The email explains that the order is for volunteer workers “fighting against the dreadful outbreak of the COVID19” and says that a driver will pick up the order on the slated date. The closing salutation reads, “Thanks a lot in anticipation of a positive response. Best Regards, Cole.S”

Suspicious, the business reported it to the BBB after the writer of the email asked for “a favor”; explaining “non-access of a credit card” and requesting the business charge an additional $1,950 plus a $250 tip” asking that payment be made through a deposit or transfer into their bank account.

“At first it seemed like any other catering request, except for some interesting phrasing. We have had a few generous individuals want to purchase meals for health care employees. But things got stranger with every exchange and when they asked us for a favor related to payment, it was the last red flag I needed to feel confident that someone was trying to scam us. The restaurant industry has already suffered enough without scams added on top,” said Ava Janssen, Sales Manager for Lodgic Everyday Kitchen.

BBB Wisconsin is familiar with this type of overpayment scam, and has seen it reported in the past in several versions from various industries including photographers and home remodeling contractors.

“It’s unfortunate that businesses have to deal with this type of hoax, especially considering the need for and suffering of business as a result of the pandemic,” said Jim Temmer, BBB CEO and president. “Our message to businesses is beware. Stay vigilant and report anything that seems suspicious.”

When Googling portions of the emails, several other reports can be found reported by businesses that had received the same or similar email.

This scam is actually a phishing email (messages from imposters pretending to be trustworthy businesses and organizations), and the overpayment scam. In an overpayment scam, the con artist notifies the victim that they have accidentally been sent an excess of money, and they request the overpaid portion be sent back to them.

BBB has listed the overpayment scam as one of the most common scams that target small businesses.

BBB recommends businesses take the following steps to avoid this scam:

If something sounds suspicious, confirm it by calling the company directly or checking the company website. Don’t click on links in an unexpected email – type the URL for the company into your browser or do a web search to find the right website. Also, check the existence of the company by searching online directories, Google, and with BBB.org.

Look for red flags. This includes poor grammar, spelling and punctuation errors and sentences that do not make sense. Also, often and as in this case, the email will not include a company or organization’s full name and contact information.

Don’t click, download, or open anything that comes from an anonymous sender. This is likely an attempt to gain access to your personal information or install malware on your computer.

Be cautious of generic emails. Scammers try to cast a wide net by including little or no specific information in their fake emails. Always be wary of unsolicited messages via email or text. Scammers will often avoid having to talk or meet in person or via phone.

Report your experience. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it is. Share the information to help warn others – take time to report scams and fraud to BBB Scam Tracker.

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