Credit Card Fraud Among Ecommerce Grows While POS Fraud Declines

With the evolution and proliferation of ecommerce and chip enabled credit cards, credit card fraud has been going through a metamorphosis over the past couple of years. As the tides change, smaller businesses in particular need to be paying attention and taking action. Without the proper precautions, small businesses are prime targets for fraudsters and hackers who can compromise sensitive data and send a crippling financial blow.

The Closing Window of Opportunity and the Opening of a New Window

As the US is slowly introduced to EMV chip credit cards, point-of-sale credit card fraud is expected to decline in the coming years. According to reports by Javelin Strategy and Research:

POS card fraud will become progressively less lucrative. Card counterfeiting will border on impossible, given the inherent security of EMV chip-cards…  Additionally, merchants who use encryption or tokenization would effectively render data gained from compromised terminals useless for future POS transactions. These factors will largely restrict POS card fraud to lost or stolen cards… [which] are significantly more difficult to acquire and are more likely to be canceled shortly after compromise… [F]raudsters at brick and mortar stores face a closing window of opportunity.

But while physical credit card fraud may be on the decline, all indications point to a significant rise in online credit card fraud as the surge in ecommerce continues. According to Javelin Strategy and Research, online fraud in the U.S. is expected to nearly double to $19 billion by 2018 from $10 billion in 2014.

Though all businesses and organizations operating online are being affected by fraudulant activity, small businesses are the most vulnerable because many are unable to afford the systems to detect and prevent it. Moreover, when it comes to online purchases, the merchant is typically the one paying for the fraud. If for example, a fraudulent customer uses a stolen credit card to purchase a product, typically by the time the real cardholder discovers the charges, the fraudster already has possession of the items. While the real cardholders are often not liable for unauthorized transactions, retailers have no such protection. Thus, when the true cardholder eventually reverses the payment, the retailer must foot the bill- an amount that includes the cost of fulfilling the order, the lost revenue of the sale, and the fees associated with receiving the chargeback (which can easily reach 25% of the transaction amount)!

What Can Small Businesses Do to Prevent Online Fraud?

In order to prevent or at least reduce a small business’ exposure to credit card fraud online, there are three things that need to be in place: knowledge of safety compliance, technology, and good payment processing practices. We’ll briefly go through each one below.

1. Maintain PCI Compliance. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of requirements designed to ensure that all companies that process, store, or transmit credit card information do so in a secure way. PCI is developed to proactively protect customer data, such as account numbers, names, addresses, and social security numbers. PCI compliance generally involves basic security precautions, such as maintaining a firewall between the business’ Internet connection and any system that stores credit card numbers.

2. Technology. There are various software applications out there that can help companies weed out fraudulant activity. Usually, these tools consider a number of potential red flags, such as whether the shipping and billing addresses match, whether the order is placed from an unfamiliar computer, device, or location, and whether the email address associated with the order has changed. Once suspicious activity has been identified, the business can then investigate further.

Another important element to consider is the ecommerce platform. Some of the most popular platforms actually do not offer so much fraud protection. So, this is something that should be researched before hand.

3. Payment Processing Best Practices. The best software in the world, however, won’t help a business that is careless with sensitive data. Businesses that are serious about data security will make the effort to routinely check that their fraud protection systems are working as they should. For example, business owners should check to see if all checkout URLs maintain a secure connection (“https”) during the checkout process. They should also set up system alerts that allow them to quickly and effectively screen out fraudulant activity, and make it a point not to store any more data than needed on customers and their transactions.

Bottom line: those businesses that process payments online need to be extra vigilant these days. Online fraud can easily ensnare a business, causing severe damage to a business’ reputation and its profitability. But, with the right knowledge, preparation, and tools, small businesses have the best chance of making it through unscathed.

Why a Social Media Graveyard Can Hurt Your Business

Are you are Instagram? Pinterest? Snapchat? How about Meerket, Periscope, or…

It seems that with every new social media platform that comes out, there is the ever increasing expectation that small business owners should maintain a presence there. Sometimes, business owners will have a compelling reason for setting up an account and giving it a go. But even with the best of intentions, chances are that most of a business’ social media profiles will eventually lay dormant, collecting a whole lot of Internet dust.

The reality of running a small business is that your time, energy, and money are limited. Yet, each new social media platform comes with its own learning curve; it’s own draw on resources, and it’s own ability to offer an ROI on those resouces.

Many business owners will try out a new social media platform because everyone else is on there or because they are looking for a magic short-cut to good marketing and customer engagement. But, they then eventually abandon that platform when it doesn’t deliver what they were hoping for. They are hurting their business in a few of ways:

  1. They take a loss on all the resources they put into maintaining a presence on the platform
  2. If potential customers see these abandoned profiles it makes the business look unprofessional.
  3. They continue to miss the whole point of social media marketing

Case in point: there has been a lot of discussion lately about the use of live streaming video apps, such as Merkeet and Periscope. Many successful Merkeet users “defected” to Periscope when it first came out- eventhough the two platforms do essentially the same thing.

What happened? These users understand that their audience of fans and buyers relate to the spontaneity and engagement that live video streaming offers. It almost doesn’t matter which platform this happens on.

This applies to any business with any form of social media. First seek to understand your target market or audience. What is important to them? How do they would want to engage with you? Where are they already hanging out online, what are they doing when they are there, and what does that tell you about them?

Once you know these answers, then it’s just a matter of finding the platforms that allow you to best connect with your audience today. If you go in with this attitude, then even if a new, shiny platform appears, you will know ahead of time whether or not you should be there.

Moreover, when really important platforms make important notices or changes to the way they operate, small business owners will know when and how to respond. For example, a couple of weeks ago Google has issued a notice for small business owners with a Google My Business account. The notice states that business owners who have not logged into their Google My Business accounts in over a year may receive an email asking them to sign in and confirm their business information. If no action is taken then Google could turn a business’s account into an unverified one, and even more dangerous, Google could also remove a business from Google Maps which could seriously affect both a business’ online search traffic and off-line foot traffic.

Bottom line: you don’t want to litter the Internet with a social media graveyard of inactive or outdated accounts. Get to know your audience and spend your time and resources where it matters the most.

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Should You Use Periscope in Your Business?

Ever since Periscope officially went live a few months ago, a growing number of people, businesses, and organizations have been trying to figure out how to take advantage of this live video streaming app while it is still relatively new and not so popular yet. If you are running a small business, you may be wondering if you should jump in yourself.

But, before you dive in consider this: while Periscope may have a lot of potential uses for small businesses in particular (and I’ll get to some examples below), you first need to be crystal clear about what you want to accomplish on this platform. You need to be sure that your activity will add real value for your business. If not, then Periscope can quickly turn into an addictive social media black hole.

What is Periscope?

Periscope is an app for iOS and Android developed by Kayvon Beykpour and Joe Bernstein that allows uses to live-stream video from their mobile phones. The company behind the app was purchased by Twitter for a reported $100 million in March 2015, and was officially relaunched later that month. One important result of Twitter’s acquisition of the app is that Periscope can be used in conjunction with Twitter, enabling users to get instant updates on new live streams.

Another interesting feature of the platform to keep in mind is the fact that live streams are recorded and remain on the site for 24 hours only, after which they are deleted. You do have the option to save your broadcast, however, which means you can then promote the recording on another platform, such as YouTube or your own website. If you would like to learn more about how to use Periscope, there is a good beginner’s guide over at Small Business Trends.

How Periscope Could Help Grow Your Business

Before we get into some of the potential uses, there are a few points that small business owners should keep in mind. The first is that from an SEO perspective, creating content that disappears after 24 hours could be a waste of your time and resources. Moreover, once your broadcast is over the stream is gone, so you can no longer interact with your viewers. Finally, you may find your viewers’ comment stream distracting while you are trying to do your broadcast.

There are some ways around these issues. For example, you could make sure that you save and promote the recordings of your show. You could also encourage viewers to connect with you on another platform (maybe you could offer them a good freebie in exchange), and if you find the real-time commenting distracting, then make sure you do a kind of show that will allow you to interact with viewers.

So, now let’s get into why you should consider Periscope. If you are catering to a young crowd (those 18-25 years old), then it’s almost a no-brainer. Why? Because these people grew up eating, drinking, and breathing in the internet and social sharing. No joke. There’ll already be on this platform, so you might as well meet them there.

Aside from this, the spontaneity of the platform has a certain game-like feel to it, and the fact that recordings disappear after 24 hours means that there is a sense of urgency as well. Viewers will be more motivated to show up if they feel like they’ll be missing out if they don’t.

Now, let’s get to some examples of Periscope in action…

  • An up and coming web design company could do a live website critique
  • A real estate agent could give a live tour on a property
  • A business consultant could do a live Q and A session or interview a famous guest
  • A fashion consultant or designer could offer fashion and beauty tips
  • I know some writers who share sections of their new books as they are writing them

You get the idea? The possibilities are endless. Just make sure you are clear about what you want accomplish and how these broadcasts will help your business and your bottom line.

Who Are Today’s Remote Workers?

When you hear the words “remote worker,” what images come to mind? Perhaps you picture a tech-savvy twenty-something sitting in a cafe and tapping away on his tablet. Maybe you think of a mother in her thirties trying to balance the demands of career and family, by working from her home office. Or, you imagine a team of independent, international contractors.

Whatever the setup, the practice of working remotely, or off-site from a physical business, is very common these days- more common than you may think. Around 33 million people in the US work remotely at least half of the time they work. In fact, the number of remote and stay-at-home workers increased by 79.7 percent from 2005 to 2012.

So, who are these people and their employers? A recent infographic entitled, “The Profile of the Remote Worker” offers a pictorial representation of the average telecommuter as well as some of the amazing benefits to be enjoyed by both the employee and his or her employer.

What’s particularly interesting is that according to data from the U.S Census Bureau, the average remote worker seems to break many of the common stereotypes. Telecommuters are on average 49-years-old, college educated, and tend to be employed by a company that has more than 100 workers. They are not working for peanuts, either. The average annual salary is $58,000 dollars. This means, that many remote workers may actually be holding mid to upper level positions within their companies.

Most remote stay-at-home workers are in the services industry, followed by the management and financial industry and then office and administrative support. Not surprisingly, states with vast rural areas and harsher weather, such as Oregon, Montana, Colorado and Vermont, have the largest remote work force.

Benefits All Around

What is convincing so many companies to embrace a remote workforce? The data reveals that remote workers tend to have greater productivity, job satisfaction, and better work-life balance, plus even though they are working away from the office, they actually feel more connected to their coworkers. You can’t go wrong with that, and most likely businesses are also saving on the indirect costs of having a totally on-site workforce as well, such as utilities and office supplies.

The bottom line is that telecommuting has quietly become the standard way of doing business; and it’s not just a fallout of advances in telecommunications and mobile computing. It’s because it just make sense- for both the business and its employees.

Reimbursing Employees for Healthcare? You Could Be Fined!

Recently, a rather obscure and not so well known IRS rule went into effect out that could have devastating consequences for many small business owners. The new legislation is directed at employers who are helping their employees offset the cost of health insurance with so called health insurance reimbursement accounts or HRAs.

For many employers, reimbursing employees for healthcare-related expenses is an easy way to help their employees without establishing an official group policy. The truth is that these HRAs have traditionally been a valuable tool used by business owners to provide health insurance to their staff without taking on the administrative cost and burden of establishing their own policy. It’s a tried and true practice that has worked for some 50 years.

But all of that is about to change.

The primary purpose of the Affordable Care Act has been the complete reform of the country’s health insurance market, with the goal being to make affordable health care coverage doable for every American. In order for this lofty goal to come about, however, drastic changes need to be made to the way employers compensate their employees and provide heath care benefits to them.

The new HRA penalty directly targets employers who are found to be assisting employees with the cost of health care through supplemental income, and those fines are pretty hefty. These businesses can be fined $100 a day per employee totaling up to $36,500 over the course of the year, or up to $500,000 per year for multiple employees. Ouch! Though this legislation actually went into effect starting January 1, 2014, the Treasury Department had delayed enforcement of penalties of this new rule- that is, until July of this year. That delay expired last week, meaning that businesses can now be charged for failure to comply.

Since drastic changes need to be made to the way small businesses compensate their employees, and since HRAs are pretty widespread among the nation’s smallest businesses, the penalty for offering an HRA is actually more expensive then avoiding healthcare coverage altogether. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers are required to offer coverage, but if they fail to comply with the employer mandate they can only be fined up to $2,000 per year.

While there has been some efforts among law makers to repeal the new legislation, as of yet the penalty is in full effect (retroactive to January 1, 2014). Small business owners really need to keep paying attention to this under-reported IRS rule or consult with a qualified professional to make sure that they are in compliance.

What is Three-Pronged Pricing?

As a new small business owner, pricing your products or services properly can get a little tricky. How do you determine how much to charge? How do you put an appropriate number on the value that you are offering?

When you are just starting out, you may want to consider a three-pronged pricing structure. This pricing model is pretty popular among small businesses, especially those that operate online, and the beauty of it is that it allows you to gather important customer purchasing data. This data in turn can help you tweak and refine your pricing so you can both maximize your profits and customer satisfaction.

Hit or Miss Pricing

The truth is that the majority of entrepreneurs and business owners kind of make things up as they go along when it comes to their pricing strategy. The process often looks something like this:

  1. The business owner does some cursory research and then just slaps a price tag on the product or service
  2. After a while, the owner has second thoughts about the pricing- especially if the business is in an extremely competitive market.
  3. Finally, the owner starts offering discounts or reducing the price outright. Typically, the result of these reductions is that the business’ offerings are now under-priced, cutting into profit margins, and putting the business in a precarious financial situation.

The problem with this strategy is that it can often do irreparable damage to the business and its reputation. When people are struggling to earn enough money to keep their heads above water, then it’s more likely that they will make bad, short-sighted business decisions. Business owners who under-charge are also more likely to burn out and feel anxious, and they will eventually feel resentment towards their low-paying customers.

Of course, none of these things are conducive to healthy business operations and growth, and it’s a compelling reason to get the pricing strategy right from the very beginning.

What is Three-Pronged Pricing and Why it Works

Even if you have a very defined target market, chances are this market will consist of many different people or businesses with varying levels of income. If you are truly offering a valuable product or service and you are clearly communicating that value to your potential and current customers, then you will often have three different groups of customers. Some of your customers may be willing to pay as much as you ask and want to get the most value out of their purchase. Others are looking for a standard offering. They have some money and are willing to spend it, but they aren’t so interested in too many “extras.” Finally, there are those who want what you’re selling but will only pay for the bare minimum.

In order to cater to all three types of customers, you need to come up with three different “packages” or levels for your offering:

  1. The Basic Package– offers a bare minimum of features and comes at a lower-than-normal price.
  2. The Advanced Package- offers a full version of your product or service
  3. The Superior Package– the most expensive offering with all the bells and whistles in addition to the basic features.

Instead of establishing one standard price, this approach allows you to target your products or services to different groups. For this reason, you will likely generate more sales and ultimately more revenue. Moreover, your customers’ purchasing behavior will give you valuable feedback on your overall pricing scheme. If, for example, a disproportionate amount of customers purchase the most expensive offering, then it could be that you are under-charging. On the other hand, too many purchases of the most basic package could be an indication that you are over-charging.

In short, the three-pronged pricing model is a good strategy to follow especially when you haven’t been in business so it. It’s a good place to start because it works and it forces you to truly understand the value that you are offering- at every level.

Why Millenial Entrepreneurs Will Be the Real Drivers of Alternative Finance

Long after the word “recession” stopped populating media headlines, the various forms of alternative, non-bank financing have continued to generate a more mainstream appeal , and this trend is only going to get stronger as the millenial generation continues to mature. This is good news for the alternative business finance industry, since this trend will likely lead to an increase in the number of young entrepreneurs and business owners in need of start up financing or a business loan.

Millennials represent one of the biggest demographic sectors in the U.S. Yet, according to a recent Bankrate survey, this group seems to be less active in traditional credit and financial markets. Among 18 to 29 year olds, 63 percent don’t have a credit card, and 33 percent are considered “under–banked.” This is compared to the 35 percent of adults 30 and over who don’t have credit cards.

Why is this happening? Many industry experts point out that after the recession, most banks severely tightened their lending standards and have yet to go in reverse. On top of this, millennials tend to have inconsistent income as a result of temporary employment, self-employment, career changes, or because they have started their own business. They come off looking financially unstable- to the banks at least. These trends, in addition to new financial regulations, such as the Credit Card Act of 2009, have made it much harder for millenials to obtain a credit card and thus begin to build their credit profile.

So, it’s not that millenials aren’t looking for credit. Many are; they just can’t get approved for it.

This opens the door wide for alternative lenders, particularly those that operate online. Many of these alternative online lenders, which include micro lenders, p2p platforms, and for business owners, and assortment of asset and revenue-based financing arrangements, rely proprietary algorithms to help them quickly determine who is fundable and how much of a financing risk a given borrower presents. Instead of looking primarily at a prospective borrower’s FICO score, these lenders consider other factors, such as financial account activity and in some cases even a borrower’s social media circles.

As the millenial generation of entrepreneurs and small business owners gets ever more comfortable accessing financing online instead of heading to their local bank, and as the banks continue to keep the funding pipeline closed, we should see even more players entering the field. There is little doubt that the alternative financing landscape will look vastly different ten years down the line- so different, that alternative finance may well be the new traditional.

Are You Prepared for the Credit Card Fraud Liability Shift?

On October 1st of this year, Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express are changing the way they will respond to certain types of payment fraud. From that point on, if merchants are not accepting EMV chip cards (i.e. they don’t have a terminal capable of processing these payments), then they will be held liable for any card-based fraudulent activity made with EMV chip cards used at their business.

The use of EMV chip cards has been rapidly expanding worldwide. Outside of the U.S., currently 44% of all cards have an EMV chip, and 74% of all credit card terminals are capable of processing EMV chip cards. The goal of October’s credit card fraud liability shift, is to encourage merchants to update their point of sale payment processing systems so that customers can make credit card payments with added security.

In contrast, to the standard magnetic strip cards that do not encrypt payment information, EMV chip cards store payment data on an encrypted computer chip embedded in the card. Instead of swiping a chip card, customers insert the card into a slot and leave it there until the transaction is complete. The encryption makes it much harder for credit card information to be stolen during a transaction and reused by thieves in the future. If a merchant is not yet equipped to accept chip transactions, customers can still use their chip embedded cards by swiping it. But in this case, the customer won’t get any of the new security benefits.

Why Small Business Owners Need to Respond

Many business owners may be tempted to simply ignore the rule change because they think that fraud would never occur at their business. Yet the truth is that many businesses are currently processing fraudulent transactions; they just don’t know it. The majority of the time the fraudulent charges are actually being handled by the banks without the involvement of the merchants themselves. By ignoring the push to upgrade their point of sale payment processing, smaller merchants will be exposing themselves to a potential financial loss. This loss can quickly outweigh any money the merchant was trying to save by not upgrading.

The bottom line is that these changes will come whether or not small business owners are willing to adapt to them right now. But, it definitely pays to respond to them as quickly as possible.


5 Big Myths About Small Business Financing

When it comes to the ins and outs of small business financing, many small business owners are in the dark. According to a recent QuickBooks survey,  more than 40 percent of small business owners consider themselves financially illiterate. With so many small business owners not understanding even the fundamentals of business finance, it is little wonder why there are so many myths floating around about the small business lending process.

Below are five of the biggest myths about business financing that small business owners tend to believe and the mistakes these fallacies typically lead to:

Myth #1: Your bank will lend you the money because you’re a longtime customer. If you need a business loan, you can just head to your local bank, right? After all, you’ve been a loyal customer for years. Why not capitalize on the relationship? The reality is that most banks these days are still tight-fisted when it comes to funding the nation’s smallest businesses. Plus, the smaller and more local your bank is, the less likely it is that they’ll offer you funding.

Myth #2: You can’t get a loan if you have bad credit. This myth is based on an element of truth. If you or your business is struggling with bad credit, then you will have a hard time getting a decent loan from from most traditional lenders. There are some ways around this, however. For example, you could take out a series of short-term microloans in order to get the needed financing and help rebuild your credit. You could also tap into an asset-based financing arrangement, such as a merchant cash advance or accounts receivables financing.

Myth #3: You can just get a loan from the SBA. First of all, the SBA is not in the business of extending loans to small businesses. What they do is work with traditional lenders. The SBA offers a guarantee on any qualifying loans their lender partners extend to small businesses. What this does is significantly minimizes the risk associated with extending the loan in the first place. While this setup allows many more smaller businesses to get cheap, long term financing, the bar is still set relatively high when it comes to the requirements for approval, such as sales volume, time in business, and industry.

Myth #4: Alternative lending is for businesses that can’t get financing elsewhere. While this statement may have been true both during and immediately following the recession, today alternative lending is becoming more and more mainstream. Not only are business owners getting more comfortable with accessing financing from online lenders, but the lenders themselves have created feature-rich, sophisticated platforms that efficiently and effectively help them to finance a wide assortment of businesses. Some industry experts are even calling alternative financing the new traditional business lending.

Myth #5: Alternative lenders will try to scam you. While there are certainly some bad apples out there in the realm of alternative financing, the reality is alternative lending has come a long way over the past few years. Today, there are many more legitimate alternative lenders offering quality products and services. You just need to make the effort to educate yourself about your options and do your due diligence before agreeing to work with any particular lender or platform.

In short, business finance is one area you don’t want to be ignorant about. Take the time to educate yourself on the fundamentals of financing and of the current realities in small business lending. Not only will this help you to steer clear of some prevalent myths, but you’ll also be in the best position to find the optimal financing arrangements to suit your business.

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6 Tips to Bring Your Small Business into Global Markets

The internet and the push for globalization may have made the world a smaller place, but expanding your small business’ operations into new international markets is no small undertaking. If it is not approached in the right way, your efforts to go global could severely disrupt your business activities in your home market and ultimately gut your business. To be successful, you need to go into the process with a good understanding of the targeted markets, including local tastes, trends, competition, and legislation. You also need to be clear about your business needs and goals as well as your available resources, and determine the best organizational setup to bring it all together.

That said, if you are considering taking your small business global make sure you carefully pay attention to the 6 tips below:

1. Learn about the market. The first step in entering a new market in a different country is to conduct adequate market research. Each market has its own nuances influenced by numerous economic, cultural, governmental, and market conditions. Knowing this information is vital since it will significantly affect your local business plan and strategy. Much of the information you need can probably be found online. In some cases it may make sense to hire a business consultant who is familiar with the target country and culture.

2. Create a budget. You don’t want your foreign operations to bankrupt your domestic ones. So, before you make a move you need to determine how much you can afford to invest in your international expansion.  Keep in mind that your international operations may not be a real source of income for the first year or two. Will your business be able to sustain this loss without compromising operations?

3. Carefully plan the product. If you have never entered a foreign market before and you know little about that country, then it usually makes the most sense to start your operations on a small scale at first with the intention of expanding further later on. This may mean picking only one or two products to offer or opening up a small local branch. This will allow you to “test the waters” of the market before dedicating too many resources. You should also find out if any localization of the product is needed. Are there certain tastes or trends that will either enhance or deflate potential sale? Also, find out the translation of the name of your product in the local language. Some product or brand names don’t translate well, occasionally with disasterous results.

4. Learn about country-specific and international business legislation. It is extremely important that you are aware of the legal environment within each new country that you do business. Review governmental and industry-wide regulations to ensure that compliance and certifications are obtained if needed. Some countries are known for being highly litigious, so it is essential that you have solid legal processes in place to minimize unnecessary risks. Also, some government agencies have strict requirements for the legal documentation that must be obtained before being able to operate in the country.

5. Building your international team. Many companies make the mistake of going to extremes when it comes to building their country-specific workforce. Either they import too many employees from their domestic location or they rely too heavily on local talent, but don’t have the systems and training in place to maintain their business culture as well as their product and service quality and productivity. Usually, the most successful operations include some kind of combination of employees from the business’ home country with native workers.

6. Be open to cross-border alliances and partnerships. In some cases it may be best to avoid re-inventing the wheel when you enter a new foreign market. Instead, consider strategically partnering up with another company to offer complimentary products or services. You could also work with another company in a sub-contractor arrangement. Again, this will help you to test the viability of doing business in a given market, while reducing your investment and thus your risk.

In short, expanding into new global markets is a process that must be planned out carefully. If you go in with the right attitude and commit the necessarily resources to make informed decisions, then you stand the best chance of making your business expansion a success.