Protect Your Business from Coronavirus-related Fraud

See what FBI Cleveland Supervisory Special Agent Milan R. Kosanovich had to tell us about the new types of fraud emerging during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, criminals are attempting to exploit COVID-19 worldwide through a variety of scams, including individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online, phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, malicious websites and apps that appear to share virus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received, and seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations. . . just to name a few.

We spoke with FBI Cleveland Supervisory Special Agent Milan R. Kosanovich to learn how businesses can protect themselves from the new types of fraud that are emerging during the coronavirus pandemic. See what he had to say:

What new types of fraud are you seeing that businesses should be aware of?

Most of the newly reported frauds involve a COVID-19 take on traditional frauds such as business e-mail compromise scams, non-delivery of goods and investment schemes. Knowing what typologies the fraudsters are employing will enables businesses to be on notice to spot and weed out potential scams.

What can businesses do to protect themselves from this fraud?

Businesses can protect themselves by ensuring that switching to a work at home environment does not diminish robust checks and balances for the transmission of sensitive messaging or the wiring of funds to pay suppliers, etc. Additionally, providing awareness messaging to employees of the new types of phishing and social engineering methods currently employed by fraudsters will help to minimize the victimization of local businesses. Fraudsters are trying to take advantage of the fact that most workplaces have less in-person contact at the moment and fears for how to operate in the new environment.

What should business owners do if they suspect they are a victim of fraud?

If you believe you are the victim of fraud, immediately file a report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ww.ic3.gov).

 

Want more information about how to protect your business from fraud? Join us April 10 for a webinar with SSA Milan R. Kosanovich, FBI Cleveland, to learn how to protect your business from the new types of fraud that are emerging during the coronavirus pandemic.

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  • Next up: Ransomware Update
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  • Ransomware Update

    Ransomware continues to grow and email is one of the most often used vehicles to infect a computer or a network with ransomware. Cybercriminals that send ransomware emails are expanding their targets to include email addresses such as hr@, hrdept@, info@, sales@ and other similar alias email addresses. They know that an alias address usually forwards to others in the business and in most cases, they forward to many others. As an example, it is not unusual for an email addressed to info@xyzcompany.com to be forwarded to many people in the organization so that the message is not missed.

    When targeting these alias addresses the cybercriminals are playing the numbers game. They send one email to an alias address, it is then forwarded to many people inside the organization in hopes that one person will open the email and then click on the enclosed link or attachment that launches the ransomware virus.

    In particular, they are targeting addresses such as hr@, hrdepart@, hrdepartment@ and similar addresses since HR Departments routinely receive emails from people they do not know and the emails often contain attachments such as resumes and employment applications which are routinely opened. HR staff receive an email from an unknown applicant and the email contains a malicious document disguised as a resume. When they click on the resume, the ransomware virus launches.

    In order to protect the organization, companies must employ data backup that protects valuable company information. However, simple backup is not sufficient. The backup must be configured in a such a manner that it is protected and hidden from the ransomware virus. In addition, companies should deploy high quality business class anti-virus and email spam filtering. Finally, and equally important, they need to educate all their employees to the dangers of ransomware and what to look for prior to opening an email or clicking on an attachment of an imbedded link.

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  • Next up: Reduce Your Interest Rate on Energy Projects
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  • Reduce Your Interest Rate on Energy Projects

    Financing your energy efficiency project just got a lot easier. The Greater Cleveland Partnership and Council of Smaller Enterprises have created an Interest Rate Reduction Program for efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, working directly with KeyBank. The program allows businesses to reduce the interest rate on these projects by up to 4.25%.

    Financing your energy efficiency project just got a lot easier.

    The Greater Cleveland Partnership and Council of Smaller Enterprises have created an Interest Rate Reduction Program for efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, working directly with KeyBank. The program allows businesses to reduce the interest rate on these projects by up to 4.25%. 

    Rate reduction details

    How does it work? Businesses can obtain a minimum 1% rate reduction from projects that yield 15% in annual energy savings. The opportunity exists for further rate reduction from greater energy savings:

    • 15% to 20%: A 1% reduction applied to the loan (total of 2%)
    • 21% to 30%: A 1.5% reduction applied to the loan (total of 2.5%)
    • 31% to 50%: A 2% reduction applied to the loan (total of 3%)

    Businesses that implement more than one energy conservation measure are eligible to receive an additional 0.5% rate reduction. Also, use of a COSE Energy Contractor means the business can shave another 0.5% off the rate. And lastly, if green lease principles are integrated, another 0.25% will be taken off the rate.

    To qualify for a rate reduction, you must be a FirstEnergy customer and you must also be a GCP/COSE member for the term of the loan. Loan terms are 24, 36, 48, 60 and 72 months. The final interest rate on the loan will not be lower than 2%. Terms are subject to change.

    Project examples

    A myriad of projects are eligible for the Interest Rate Reduction Program, including:

    • Mechanical systems and components, including HVAC
    • HVAC controls/advanced thermostats
    • Lighting and lighting controls
    • Doors and windows
    • Refrigeration upgrades
    • Advanced energy projects

    How to apply

    Applying for a reduction in your interest rate can be done in five easy steps.

    STEP 1: Go to cose.org/energyloanapp.

    STEP 2: Complete the Interest Rate Reduction application, where you provide information about your project.

    STEP 3: A referral is made to KeyBank for the loan application.

    STEP 4: Loan approval and rate reduction is confirmed by KeyBank within two or three days.

    STEP 5: Get started on your project and begin saving on energy costs. The loan is paid back via your energy savings earned each month.

    Learn about additional opportunities to bring energy savings to your business through rebates and incentives, energy assessments and a network of local, vetted contractors. Questions? Contact the GCP/COSE Energy Team at 216-592-2205 or via email at energy@gcpartnership.com.

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  • Next up: Rise of the Bots: What You Need to Know
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  • Rise of the Bots: What You Need to Know

    Last month COSE delved into the ins and outs of chatbots and how to best go about using them to grow your business. Check out the highlights and scroll to the bottom to view the full presentation.

    Ryan Gialames, director of product design at Robots & Pencils, joined a COSE WebEd Series webinar and provided a thorough discussion of chatbots, including a step-by-step process for getting your business started using this newer tool.

    What is it and why should you use it?

    So what is a chatbot? A chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, primarily over the internet. Chatbots are often powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Because of the popularity of messaging platforms, like Facebook Messenger, chatbots are becoming even more effective and accessible. Adoption of chatbots is rising and, according to Gialames, billions is predicted in annual saving thanks to the creation of chatbots.

    The average employee spends 1.8 hours per day searching for information. Bots can help solve that problem by making the information more readily available for your employees.

    Examples of bots

    Gialames gave several examples of industries that are using bots. While most industries are implementing bots within the area of customer support, many are thinking outside the box and using bots in more creative ways.

    Bot example no. 1: Retail. A bot can be used in the retail industry to provide a consumer with a virtual stylist, which is something the company Levi’s has implemented recently. This is a great way for a user to find out about products and for companies to find out about their customers. The carousel feature with revolving images makes it easy for consumers to find what they’re looking for and have it all at their fingertips.

    Bot example no. 2: Travel. R&P Airlines is using chatbots to help their consumers easily find flights and book on the spot. Hotels are using bots to help fill guests’ needs, such as asking housekeeping for extra towels or the concierge for advice.

    Bot example no. 3: Banking. Varo is a non-brick-and-mortar bank that targets millennials by featuring bots that live inside their app. These bots help consumers manage spending habits and set goals, and provide the opportunity for the company to help engineer its customers’ behaviors.

    Bot example no. 4: Education. Schools can use bots to welcome each and every student, and can feature animated gifs or videos to engage students. Bots can be implemented to reach out to students and nudge them along in the necessary processes, navigate financial aid and more.

    Bot example no. 5: Customer service. According to Gialames, 67% of consumers worldwide have used a bot for support. The options in this capacity are endless and can range from answering quick questions to more complex information sharing and troubleshooting. Instead of having customer service agents constantly answer the same question over and over again, bots can be used to make time with customers more valuable and pass off questions to the appropriate support person when necessary.

    Gialames presented the following 10 principles of chatbots that should be present in order to make your bot appear friendlier and personable, and less, well, robotic. According to Gialames, a personal chatbot should always be:

    Polite – if it doesn’t know the answer, the bot should be apologetic and should never make the consumer feel dumb;

    Intuitive – conversations shouldn’t feel confusing and messaging should always be structured;

    Empowering – give the user the ability to communicate preferences and choices whenever possible.

    Flatter the user by saying things like “that’s a great choice,” etc;

    On my team – chatbot should convey how they are in alliance with the consumer’s goals;

    Reflective – the chatbot should reflect on the consumer’s current state, emphasizing how their feelings are understood and matched;

    Cultivating curiosity – the bot should be interested in the consumer, and should have a way of bribing the consumer to move forward in the process or with the company;

    Humorous – chatbots should be playful and pleasant, conveying a personal voice. If the bot has to place the consumer “on hold” while searching for information, program the bot to make a joke while waiting;

    Actionable – a chatbot should make it obvious what job it’s designed to handle; and

    Trustworthy – when the chatbot reliably delivers what a consumer wants, not only does the consumer’s trust in the chatbot grow but in the company itself.

    Getting started

    So, what’s the best way to go about getting started in implementing chatbots? Gialames suggests starting off with an experiment. Limit the scope of your experiment so that it’s not overwhelming, but make sure that it’s still meaningful. If you do want to dive right in and create an actual bot with real outcomes, start off by using just a couple of features relative to your consumers before moving forward with an implementation of a more extensive bot.

    He suggests implementing the following chatbot rollout schedule.

    Rollout phase 1: Launch and learn. In this stage a company should define use cases and campaigns, as well as design and create the context and tone of the bot. Where you would normally think about what your company looks like (logos, colors, etc), in this case you’ll be considering what your company sounds like. What kind of voice will your bot give to your company?  

    Rollout phase 2: Add scale. Here is where a company should conduct an analysis of opportunities based on the initial release of the bot and modify conversations based on these learnings. You can then incorporate additional data and content based on user feedback and new content sources.

    Rollout phase 3: Extend. So you have your base chatbot, now it’s time to extend the functionality to additional platforms. Here you’ll design and build additional interactions and content based on available platform capabilities, and most likely integrate other systems.

    While early chatbot experiences didn’t necessarily match up to the hype—most likely due to a poor understanding of their capabilities and improper usage—the slope is rising. Better use is evolving and industries are harnessing the power of chatbots. Tools are getting better and finding their way into the right hands with companies coming up with creative ways to use them. If you believe the return on investment for a chatbot could be in your favor, become an early adopter and begin incorporating bots into your experiences today.

    The full recap of this webinar can be viewed below. Also, be sure to head over to COSE’s Events Page to discover other upcoming events that can help your business grow.


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  • Next up: Rising Energy Costs Are Why You Need an Energy Partner in 2017
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  • Rising Energy Costs Are Why You Need an Energy Partner in 2017

    Energy prices are currently at or near all-time lows. That’s really good news for your business, right? Sure, assuming these prices stay low. But there are signs that are pointing to an increase in energy prices during 2017, which means you’re going to need to put an added emphasis on managing energy costs—which is likely one of the biggest expenses your business faces—during the new year.

    Energy prices are currently at or near all-time lows. That’s really good news for your business, right?

    Sure, assuming these prices stay low. But there are signs that are pointing to an increase in energy prices during 2017, which means you’re going to need to put an added emphasis on managing energy costs—which is likely one of the biggest expenses your business faces—during the new year.

    Most energy models are predicting higher prices in 2017, in part because of expected colder weather during this winter. The remaining winter weather will directly affect the demand for natural gas and the amount of gas in storage, which has a profound effect on the current pricing and to a lesser extent future pricing. Other factors, including power plants that could potentially be sold or retired could play a role as well in lifting energy prices during 2017. Electricity pricing closely follows natural gas trends as well. These increases might be partially offset somewhat by increased supply.

    So, right now you’re probably thinking, “OK. What does this mean for me?” Well, it means you need to take control of your energy strategy now while prices remain at or near record lows. How do you do that? For starters, here are some questions you should be asking yourself when you think about energy in 2017:

    • What do you want included (or excluded) in your next energy contract?
    • What regulatory rules are in place? How do they impact your business?
    • What’s the overall long-term strategy you have for your business? Are you planning to grow?
    • Have you planned any energy efficiency updates for your business?

    That’s a lot to consider. How confident are you that you’ll be able to answer all of these questions? If you’re struggling to come up with answers for the above, don’t feel like you need to go it alone. You should consider partnering with COSE’s Energy Team and our experienced partners who can help you develop a unique energy strategy that helps you keep energy costs in check and that fits your individual business model and the strategic plan you already have in place to grow your business.

    But don’t take our word for it. Learn how Cindy Barber of the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern was able to cut a chunk out of her natural gas pricing by partnering with COSE and our energy partners.

    COSE members have access to several programs designed to ensure you’re maximizing your energy. Contact us at 216-592-2205 or energy@cose.org to learn more.

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  • Next up: Safety Moment: Back to School with OSHA - Recordable Injuries and Top Ten Walking Working Surfaces
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  • Safety Moment: Back to School with OSHA - Recordable Injuries and Top Ten Walking Working Surfaces

    Every September the kids go to school and begin to learn new things. This year employers are back to school with OSHA. Two new regulations are new this year for employers.

    First, was the improved tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses – which emphasized the employee's right to report injuries and illnesses free from retaliation (29 CFR 1904.35). The new reporting requirements will be phased in over two years: OSHA proposed extending the compliance date for electronically submitting injury and illness reports from July 1 to December 1. Required employers can submit injury and illness data using an electronic reporting system. The anti-retaliation provisions become effective August 10, 2016, but OSHA delayed their enforcement Dec. 1, 2016. Establishments with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the recordkeeping regulation must submit information from their 2016 Form 300A by December 1, 2017. These same employers will be required to submit information from all 2017 forms (300A, 300, and 301) by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019 and every year thereafter, the information must be submitted by March 2.

    Establishments with 20-249 employees in certain high-risk industries must submit information from their 2016 Form 300A by December 1, 2017, and their 2017 Form 300A by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019 and every year thereafter, the information must be submitted by March 2. They have also posted frequently asked questions on the rule.

    The second major rule OSHA issued a final rule on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems that was effective Jan. 17, 2017. The final rule includes revised and new information that addresses everything from fixed ladders and fall protection systems to training and design requirements. The final rule updates and revises the outdated general industry Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems) standards on slip, trip, and fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and lost-workday injuries (29 CFR part 1910, subparts D and I). OSHA adopted the existing standards in 1971 and has not updated them since. The final rule also adds new requirements on personal fall protection systems (29 CFR part 1910, subpart I). OSHA estimates the final rule will prevent 29 worker deaths and 5,842 lost-workday injuries each year. Additionally, because the final rule harmonizes general industry requirements with OSHA's existing construction industry standard and many ANSI standards, the new rule will make compliance both easier and less costly. OSHA estimates the annual monetized benefits of the lives saved and injuries prevented will be $614.5 million (with net benefits of $309.5 million (benefits minus costs)).

    Here are 10 specific items that changed in the standard.

    1) Training required for exposed workers or equipment users by May 2017. This includes general for exposure, roof, equipment, and key individuals (authorized, competent, and qualified persons).

    2) Equipment requirements included changes to the test weights of snap hooks and carabineers, and requirements for self-retractable lanyards, including deceleration distances.

    3) Changed safe distance to roof edges as well as defining temporary and infrequent tasks on roofs.

    4) Modified ladders and stairs requirements starting in 2018 and required safety systems on all ladders by 2036. This includes requirements for spiral stairs and ships ladders.

    5) Guardrails are now aligned with construction industry and codified 19 inch opening requirements.

    6) Requires written certification of the workplace assessment to determine if hazards are present.

    7) Rope descent systems must comply with 1910.27(b)(1)(i).

    8) Documentation requirements include assessments, training, anchors, and walking working surface load rating.

    9) Updated definitions of competent and qualified person in subpart D and I.

    10) Important compliance dates for employee training May 17, 2017, certification of anchorages on Nov. 20, 2017, existing fixed ladders need cage well, ladder safety system or PFAs Nov. 19, 2018, new ladders with ladder safety system by Nov. 19, 2018, and all fixed ladders must be equipped with a ladder safety system or PFAS by Nov. 18, 2016.

    Employers should ensure compliance, safety, and risk management in all tasks. OSHA aligned fall protection requirements for general industry with those for construction, easing compliance for employers who perform both types of activities. For example, the final rule replaces the outdated general industry scaffold standards with a requirement that employers comply with OSHA's construction scaffold standards. OSHA has created a frequently asked questions guide for the standard.

    On September 13, 2017, Don Elswick, CSP, CET, CHMM with ELSMART Associates will be discussing both of these changes during the Northeast Ohio Safety Council meeting. If you have any specific questions you want addressed at the meeting contact Don Elswick at elsmart0101@gmail.com. Looking forward to seeing you on September 13, 2017 at this important information session.

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