Is This Business Opportunity a Scam?

A reader learned of a new business opportunity online, but suspects the company may not be legitimate. Here's how to find out if a company is on the up-and-up, or if you may be a potential victim of an online scam.

Q: I’m considering a business opportunity I learned about online, but I’m worried it may be a scam. Is there any way to verify the company is ligit?

A: You know what they say: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The Internet may be a favorite venue for financial scam artists, but it can also help you avoid scams if you know how to use it.

If you suspect that a company or offer may be fraudulent, you can look up a company’s record with the Better Business Bureau. A trip to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Fraud website can also help you avoid falling victim to scams.

If you heard about the business opportunity via email, you have cause to be wary. An Internet scam known as “phishing” is aimed at gleaning your personal information through e-mails that mimic those from legitimate sources, like your bank or the federal government. To protect yourself, you should never click on a link in an email that asks for log-in or password information. Instead, look up the company’s web address in the web browser yourself.

The Department of Justice also recommends the “Stop, Look, Call” method of scam protection. Stop and think before you answer a dubious e-mail, no matter how urgent the message. Look at the email carefully and ask yourself why the information asked for is needed. Call the company, using a phone number you obtain from a legitimate company web site -- not a number that might be in the e-mail (even if you recognize the company as one you do business with). And to report a suspected phishing scheme, go to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.