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During the COVID-19 pandemic, fraudsters have found various ways to perpetrate scams. With many people working remotely, the chance of scammers taking advantage of companies through fake invoice scams is high.

The bait they set looks convincing. They may try to say the business owes money for an item it ordered. The sender may indicate payment is needed immediately in order to avoid any late fees or a possible disruption of service. The scammers are hopeful the recipient will not check with their boss and act on it immediately.

In reality, the goods or services may not exist. The invoice is nothing more than a ruse to get the recipient's hard-earned money.

Consumers have reported more than 500 fake invoice scam attempts to Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker this year. Consumers reported losing money in 24 percent of these reports with losses as large as $40,000.

In October 2019, a Farmington business reported to BBB Scam Tracker it was targeted in a fake invoice scam. The business received an invoice for two printers, costing more than $1,200.

"This was well over double the cost our IT department pays for these," the business wrote. "I questioned this invoice. Our IT department verified they had not ordered these items nor would they use this vendor."

In another form of the scam, recipients get what looks to be an official notice from a government agency that seeks payment required to stay in compliance with the law.

Scammers may also try to infiltrate businesses with emails that have fake invoices that, when downloaded, contain malware or spyware, which can expose the business to even more problems.

It is imperative people check to make sure an invoice is real before making payment. This scam is successful when employees don't communicate and make a payment believing someone else in the company placed the order. If your office is working remotely because of the pandemic, communication is key in avoiding any scams.

How can you protect your business from fake invoice scams?

Train your staff. Make sure people processing invoices or answering phone calls are aware of this con. Scammers are great at mimicking official seals, fonts and other details.

Create a process for inspecting invoices. Always check goods or services were both ordered and delivered before paying an invoice. Designate a small group of employees with authority to approve purchases, receive shipments, and pay the bills. If you have been scammed, immediately report it to company officials and local law enforcement.

Watch where you click. Be wary of unsolicited emails which may contain attachments. Before downloading anything, make sure the email is from a legitimate source.

Report. Consumers are urged to report invoice scam attempts to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Trade Commission and BBB Scam Tracker.

Research. To learn more about various scams, read BBB's studies on business email compromise and government impostor scams at bbb.org/scamstudies.

Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.

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