The Better Business Bureau hears thousands of complaints every year from consumers and businesses. In a recent warning, the BBB released a list of seven scams that have topped the list for small business owners.
Included in the list of threats was directory scams, a fraud which was seen within Bartow County less than two years ago. About 18-months ago, an unknown source contacted local businesses claiming to be with the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce selling map ads.
As a regular offering of the Chamber for members, the business map is circulated among locals and visitors alike. Unfortunately, at least one local business fell prey to the scheme.
"They had just copied ads that were in our map and called on past customers and also called on some others," said Kay Read, president and CEO of the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce. "Because our map is so popular, people know that and they like to represent themselves or make you think that it's the Chamber map they're representing."
Read urges members that are in doubt to call or e-mail the Chamber. Map sales for the official map are underway now through an outside sales force, members wishing to confirm with the Chamber will be given the company's information and salesman's name.
Many of the scams listed were technology driven including data breaches, identity theft and phishing e-mails. Nathan Underwood, owner of Cyber Tech Cafe, has seen a dramatic increase in malicious software in recent months and urges safety in both domestic and business Internet usage.
"Easily 70 percent or more of our business is [virus] removal, so it's a big thing. We've definitely seen a spike in the last few months," Underwood said. "There are a lot of people that are being damaged by this and it's hard for people to understand why it's happening."
To demonstrate the amount of malicious software and viruses being added in the past year, Underwood cited a recent study by Panda Labs Virus Research Laboratories showing that a third of all malware in existence was created in 2010.
With this exponential leap in activity, awareness and diligence is key to protecting information stored on computers or shared online.
"I think probably the most important thing for folks to keep in mind is what the bad guys are after. There's a misconception that they want that $12 you've got hoarded away in your checking account and that's oftentimes not the case. More and more frequently, people, the bad guys if you will, are building what are called bot-nets which is just a network of compromised computers. That network of computers is an asset, a marketable product. The more computers they have in that network, the more valuable their product is," Underwood said.
Several things can be done to protect personal and work computers, said Underwood. His recommendations are to stay on top of updates and potential threats. The easiest way to avoid becoming the victim of malware is avoiding easily compromised programs including web browsers and antivirus software. As he explained, products with the largest market share are the first to be exploited.
Underwood suggested staying away from Internet Explorer for web browsing and avoid Norton or McAfee security devices. Popular applications are also high risk programs, including Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash Player and Java Run Time. Keeping all of these programs up to date as well as antivirus protection, will aid in online security.
"All that an attacker has to do is lure you into watching a video with this malicious code in it and you're had -- that's it. You really don't even know that it's happening. So know where the exploits are coming from. If you have to use these just beware and keep those applications up to date," Underwood said. "Antivirus software is very, very similar to a flu vaccine. Last year's flu vaccine will not protect you from this year's flu. Likewise, yesterday's antivirus software will not protect you from today's viruses."
Another area of protection is adding a firewall but users must also employ common sense. Underwood added that e-mails with suspicious or lewd subjects are often malicious in nature. By clicking on an altered link the user may redirect or a window may shut-down, during which time a code is installed leaving the computer and its contents vulnerable.
Cyber Tech Cafe provides updates on new viruses and potential threats on their website at www.cybertechcafe.net and on their Facebook page.