Avoiding Email Hacks

Guest Columnist: Steve Feher, The Ridgefield Group

Every time we open email, we’re looking at communication that can drive business to our firm.   Whether the email is from a vendor, customer, or colleague, we likely act quickly to respond and follow-through.  Since we may often get emails from the same address or contact, we may sometimes act too quickly when we reply to an email.  We may not notice that the email is, in fact, not from whom we think.   Such a message may ask us for payment details, password credentials, or other seemingly innocent and important details what we’d typically jump right on.  The desire to reply quickly can open the opportunity for headaches.

What can a small business do to combat emails that are so good at faking us out?   How can we separate the right emails from the wrong emails?  How can we avoid being tricked into divulging critical data to false contacts?

In short, it’s important to remember that no one is perfectly secure. Our banks, our investments, our medical data and other data might be well secured, but we’re all subject to  the greatest and most likely risky behavior; that of human beings.   This is what makes email phishing schemes and hack attempts so attractive to perpetrators.   They simply ask us for the information they want and we (unintentionally) deliver it to them.   It’s charming, elegant, clean, and simple.

All businesses, including the Chamber of Commerce, are susceptible to this.  In fact, it’s happened over the last few weeks to unsuspecting chamber members and thus, this article was authored to help create an educational opportunity for us all.

Below is a screen capture of an email that was received by one of our fellow members of the Chamber (their name is redacted for privacy). This email “came from” the Chamber Of Commerce and so the member of course wanted to act on this.  How many things can you see wrong with this email?  Take a minute and try to count.

If you found more than four big errors, you’re pretty sharp!   Let’s dissect this a bit and see what you found.

ITEM 1 – Subject Line 
While we can’t always doubt a subject line, it’s interesting to note that this subject is a little uncommon for the Chamber of Commerce.  “ACH Payment Advice” sounds like it might come from your bank, but that would be unexpected for the Chamber.   Maybe this alone isn’t enough to make us suspicious, but it’s certainly odd.

ITEM 2 – Sending Email account 
Note that the email address that’s apparently used to send this email from the Chamber is   Last we knew, no one with that name worked at the Chamber.  Are they a new employee?  Perhaps… but the domain name is surely NOT the Chamber’s address.   If you look up this domain, you’ll find it resolves to a website promoting a Nigerian energy conglomerate. The oddity is increasing.

ITEM 3 – Content of the email 
Did we recently pay the Chamber of Commerce on December 6?  Does this even make sense?  And, if there’s an open invoice, why would we be asked to “cancel the deposit”?

ITEM 4 – Link 
The link that is presented has a ‘top domain’ that’s new; is surely NOT the Chamber of Commerce – our suspicions ought to be on hyper alert now, especially since the link is not secure (note the absence of the httpS:// in the URL;  the ‘s’ should be where the green arrow points).   This URL is not encrypted, yet it is supposedly referring us to an invoice.

ITEM 5 – Phone Number 
Have we ever dialed a Jefferson County Ohio business with a 549 area code?  A quick Google search shows us that the 549 Area Code is Des Moines, Iowa.  Surely the Chamber doesn’t use those numbers.

ITEM 6 – Disclaimer 
The email footer has a disclaimer from a company called the “Century Group” which is unlikely for an email that originates from the Chamber.



Individual Vigilance is Important

Once we begin to investigate this email, it seems fairly clear that it is not legitimate.   No specialized training is needed here;  all the items above were simply discovered by observation and some healthy skepticism.   If we remember that not every email we receive is a genuine message and not every request merits our response, we become less likely to be a victim of phishing attacks.

While spam filters, malware scans, and antivirus tools are important (and you should certainly use them), the best defense against attacks may very well be our own vigilance.  By training ourselves to question our own inbox, we can help prevent problems and their painful consequences.



Take The “Chamber Challenge” This Holiday Season!

The Chamber recently announced its, “Chamber Challenge” for the 2018 holiday season. “Sometimes it helps to give people ideas for specific things that they can do to help,” said Tricia Maple, Chamber president. “So rather than just promoting the overall concept of buying locally this holiday season, we came up with a simple list of three action items.”

The first is to challenge yourself to purchase at least one fourth of your holiday gifts locally. Seek out and explore our local businesses, think outside the box for unique items and if you are purchasing gift cards, buy them from a local business. And if you must purchase gift cards to a national chain, purchase them at a local grocery store. Those dollars will still be kept somewhat local.

Second, patronize a business that you’ve never been to before. From downtown Steubenville to Hollywood City Center, Toronto, Mingo, Richmond and everywhere in between, there is no doubt a new (or long time) business that you’ve never been to. Make it a point to seek out at least one and make a purchase, meet the owner or manager and give them a chance to earn your repeat business.

Last, if you are headed out of town for any reason, gas up at a local gas station and eat locally before you leave. By filling your tank and your belly locally (and on a regular basis) you’re pumping money into the local economy.

Buying locally just makes good sense and the holidays are a great time to start making it a daily habit. “I say it all the time but it’s worth repeating”, Maple continued. “We can’t expect our local businesses to support us, our kids’ activities and sports teams, our churches and charities, our events and fundraisers and then not support them when making a purchase. It’s unlikely that Amazon is going to give you a gift card for your spaghetti dinner door prize table and doubtful that a Pittsburgh business is going to buy an ad in your school’s football program. Support those who support you and think local first.”

Small Business Saturday – November 24

Small Business Saturday is a nationally celebrated shopping event that takes place across the United States. on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The day is intended to encourage American shoppers to consider buying from small retailers and merchants as they check off their holiday gift lists. American Express created Small Business Saturday in 2010 as a promotional effort designed to encourage consumers to support businesses which creates jobs, boosts the economy, and preserves downtown districts and neighborhoods around the country. The timing of this annual shopping event is intentional, as it always occurs on the 4th Saturday of November, following “Black Friday,” and prior to the recently established “Cyber Monday” shopping events.
The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce uses “Small Business Saturday” as the kick off to its, “Shift Your Shopping” programs. The chamber will have “stations” in place throughout the county that day to hand out coffee, doughnuts, coupons and other giveaways. Watch your weekly newsletter and email for details. For a complete list of “Shift Your Shopping” activities that you and your employees can get involved in, click here.
New this year is a free program from American Express that allows small businesses to create custom signs, social media posts and videos with just the click of a button. (The banner ad at the top of this article was created this way.) Click below to get started. And check out event more ideas, products and free resources that you can use for Small Business Saturday, through the holiday season and year-round by clicking here.

2018 Annual Award Winners

Winners in 5 categories were honored Wednesday evening at the Chamber’s 110th Annual Meeting & Awards Dinner. Pictured from left is: Shawn Mihellis and Yianni Bourbakis from Theo Yianni’s Greek Restaurant, who was named “New or Emerging Business of the Year,” Jenn Cesta from the Public Library of Steubenville & Jefferson County, “Ambassador of the Year,” Dr. Jimmie Bruce from Eastern Gateway Community College, “Business of the Year,” Jim Morgan, recipient of the “Lifetime Achievement Award” and Jim McBane, accepting the “Young Professional of the Year Award “on behalf of Dan McBane, from McBane Insurance & Financial Services.

2018 Burger Bash Better Than Ever

The Burger Bash, hosted by the Chamber Ambassador Club on Wednesday evening was once again a great event packed with amazing food, music, contests and prizes. Event Chair, Nicole Adamski, from T he Inn & Suites At Franciscan Square and Ambassador President, Chris Orris from Valley Hospice, Inc. joined forces with their fellow ambassadors and many local businesses to put on an outstanding event with proceeds benefiting the Anita Jackson Community Scholarship.

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Join Us For The “Traveling” First Friday Poker Run!

“First Friday,” which began over a year ago, has become a favorite event among chamber members and our member restaurants and pubs. It’s casual and fun – just a get together on the first Friday of each month with food, drink and conversation. There’s no speaker, agenda, program or cost. And it supports one of the chamber’s most important missions, to encourage our residents to eat, drink and shop locally.

In August, we’re taking it on the road and adding a few twists. Join us for the Chamber’s first “traveling” version as we load up in style in two limo buses generously sponsored by Ryan at Advanced Entertainment Limousine and head out to several stops throughout the county. We’ll start at Froehlich’s Classic Corner downtown and, after stops in Toronto, Wintersville and Steubenville (the restaurants will be announced soon), we’ll end up at “First Friday On 4th” in downtown Steubenville. To add even more fun to our trip, you’ll draw a playing card at each of the five stops with the winning hand at the end taking home half of the ticket sales pot – over $300! You can thank Janet McLaughlin (formerly Janet King – congrats on her recent marriage) for this exciting and interesting event idea. Space is very limited and reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost is $20 per person and must be paid by cash or check to officially book your seat. Phone RSVPs do not confirm your seat – we must have your payment in order to be fair to all who would like to participate. Stop by the Chamber offices to reserve your spot or mail your check to: The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, 630 Market Street, Steubenville, OH 43952.