Small Business Crimes and Scams - Free Enterprise

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If you're in business, you better be in the data security business. Even if you don't transact all of your business online, and even if you don't even have a website, if you're processing payments electronically, that data could be at risk. Everything from customer information to proprietary technology can be valuable to hackers, making cybersecurity perhaps your most important investment.

Not sure where to get started? Here are five important cybersecurity questions, and where to go for answers.

JP Morgan Chase has agreed to settle mortgage discrimination claims, brought by the Department of Justice for $55 million. The federal lawsuit alleged that Chase worked with mortgage brokers that discriminated against minority borrowers by charging them, on average, $1,000 more than white borrowers. While Chase admits no wrongdoing as part of the settlement, the lawsuit alleged that approximately 53,000 black and Hispanic borrowers were charged more than white borrowers by the allegedly independent brokers that Chase was working with between 2006 and 2009.

Currently, the settlement is still awaiting judicial approval. The settlement amount may seem like a significant sum of money to most, however, when the $55 million is put up against the bank's $250 billion in equity, and $2.4 trillion in assets, the settlement seems a bit paltry.

The American automaker Chrysler Fiat, which claims to be America's Import, has unintentionally followed the lead of an actual popular import, Volkswagen. Unfortunately for the US automaker, the lead they are following isn't related to German driving culture. Instead, it's getting busted by the Environmental Protection Agency for deceptive diesel engine emissions.

Only the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 models with the 3.0 liter diesel engine have been listed as possibly being involved. Additionally, this only effects the model years 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Despite Silicon Valley's reputation for bringing together angels and unicorns, pitfalls and problems are sometimes unavoidable. This past year has been filled with ups and downs, as well as jaw-dropping scandals that shock even the most jaded of internet news readers.

Below you'll find the top 5 Silicon Valley scandals of this past year.

You might've been thinking shoplifters attacking your store were isolated thieves, acting alone and out of desperation. But that's not always the case. Sophisticated shoplifting rings have learned that pooling your resources can lead to increased profits, and that certain consumer products become very valuable when they hit the street.

Now small businesses have begun seeing coordinated attacks referred to as "organized retail crime," or ORC, that are part of a criminal enterprise that functions "just like a Fortune 500 company."

If your business is engaged in retail sales, then it is a smart business practice to have a clear return policy. Customers appreciate clarity, and having a clear return policy might even lead to an increase in consumer confidence and thus an increase in sales. However, deciding on what the policy actually provides requires careful thought as returns can be rather detrimental to some businesses' bottom lines. Also, making sure your policy complies with the law is important.

Generally though, you need to make sure that your return policy is crafted with your business's customers in mind. If you choose to not allow any returns, then you may scare off some potential customers, or worse, anger former customers that have encountered a problem with a product they purchased from your business.

If all sales are going to be "final" sales, then this policy should be explicitly made clear before purchase, as customers do not generally expect items to be nonreturnable. But be wary, if you create too liberal of a return policy, you risk losing money due to customers taking advantage of the policy, or trying to scam your business. Striking the right balance may require some trial and error, but the key is being clear with your customers.

Embezzlement happens when an employee, or someone with authorization to possess something of value, misappropriates (aka steals) that something for themselves. Most commonly, embezzlement occurs in an employment setting where an employee has access to cash, or other resources or valuable items, and sees that there is a way to steal without getting caught. It can be something as small as not punching out during a lunch break to large thefts of thousands of dollars or more. Embezzlement is pretty much the epitome of a crime of opportunity. Employers are encouraged to head the warning signs.

What surprises many small business owners though is that embezzlement is more common at small businesses than large ones. This is largely due to the lack of oversight that is commonly found in smaller businesses leading to more opportunity for employees to steal unnoticed. While an employee may have the legal right to access the resources or cash, when they misappropriate it for personal use or benefit, it becomes theft.

Below, you'll find three tips that small business owners need to know about embezzlement.

It's not uncommon to hear shoppers blame retailers for marking up prices before starting sales. A recently-filed lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court against Macy's, Kohl's, JCPenny, and Sears gives some credibility to those outlandish claims. The lawsuit couldn't have been filed at a worse time for the retailers as the negative publicity could impact their holiday shopping season.

The lawsuit claims that the retail behemoths all misled consumers by listing fake original prices when displaying and advertising sale prices. The Los Angeles City Attorney's Office explained in their lawsuit that each of the four retailers used false reference pricing to mislead customers into thinking sale prices were better deals.

Crime can happen anywhere, anytime. If you own or run a business, preventing crime at your business should not be a trivial concern. Criminals can not only steal from your business, but they can harm your customers and employees. Also, criminals aren't always unknown third parties, frequently criminals are upset customers, or former or current employees.

While crime may be an unpredictable threat, the following five tips can help your business prevent crime before it even happens.

Any retailer is only as good as the products it sells, and online retailers are no different. No marketplace wants to be known for allowing counterfeit goods, especially one as big as Amazon. So it's somewhat surprising that the two lawsuits filed by Amazon this week are its first against merchants for allegedly selling counterfeit items in the company's 20-year history.

Here's a look at the lawsuits and what they could mean for e-commerce and counterfeiters in the future.