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VIEWPOINT: Moving too fast makes you the perfect target for cyber fraud

By Jonathan Spilka


Feeling busier than usual? Whether it’s the ongoing struggle to fully staff positions, trying to meet customer needs despite inflationary pressures, or just keeping ahead of rapidly changing economic news, it seems like businesses are stretched for time and business owners are feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

People have used the adage “haste makes waste” since the 1500s. It’s an enduring phrase because it’s just as true today as it was back then. Rushing can lead to costly mistakes —especially for smaller businesses. There are two areas in business where moving too fast can really cost you: fraud and reactive decision-making.

Fraud is on the rise, and criminals are hoping that you’ll be too busy to critically examine that link in an email or question that odd request.

Larger businesses have the infrastructure and budget to put in place measures that protect them from a lot of fraud and cybersecurity issues. That doesn’t mean they are never a target; it simply means that it’s harder for criminals to break through their defenses.

You may think that the fraudsters will be after the “larger” businesses, but with limited budgets and staff, small businesses can be prime targets for bad actors. Criminals seek out weak spots to wreak havoc and steal from your business. Some of these weak spots — such as phishing emails or spear phishing phone calls — become even more effective tools of fraud when managers and employees are feeling rushed.

Fraud is an ongoing problem, and issues can arise when you — or your employees — are tired and distracted. Anyone with an email address who has access to their company’s computer systems should always be trained to spot fraudulent activity. All it takes is one person to click on a link in a phishing email to take your entire system down or hold your data hostage. 

Employees who have access to sensitive information, such as online-banking access, should receive additional training on a tactic known as “spear phishing.” This is when someone calls, pretending they are with a financial institution, asking for someone who can verify account numbers or passwords. A criminal could also pose as a vendor, saying they didn’t receive payment and need to process it immediately, asking for account information.

One of the most important things you can do as a business owner is to take the time necessary to ensure controls are in place. For instance, make sure you are checking your banking accounts regularly. Keep an eye out for small, unexpected charges that could be testing electronic access to the account — criminals try this first with small amounts that may get overlooked, rather than flagged as fraud.

Reactive decision-making can happen when a business faces multiple challenges in a short period of time. These challenges could include things like the loss of a key staff member, an expensive piece of equipment unexpectedly breaking down, or industry-specific issues that may arise. While any of these things happening independently could be hard enough, having two or more happen in the current economic environment can lead to a potential rash decision being made. This is why taking a proactive approach in your banking relationship before problems like these, or countless others, is more important than ever. 

Some of the services that banks already offer are designed to help small businesses. From fraud controls to personalized attention from someone who knows your business and understands the local market, your financial institution should be a go-to resource for help.

Establishing a routine of checking in with your business banker means that you’ll have a personal relationship with someone who knows you and your business, which is a helpful foundation when challenges arise. Having someone who understands your short-term and long-term business goals means you have access to an objective voice to provide advice when you need it most.

Don’t let the current interest-rate environment or the fact that there seems to be ongoing changes to the current economic and business cycle allow you to take your eye off the ball. Stay in touch with your financial institution and make sure it always knows what you are facing. Communication with your business banker and/or banking partner is more important now than ever.  

Jonathan Spilka is a senior VP and business banking business development manager at NBT Bank. He is responsible for leading business banking production for a team of regional managers across New York state.