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CBS 58 Investigates: Scammers target small businesses during pandemic

CBS 58 Investigates: Scammers target small businesses during pandemic

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- As small businesses struggle during the coronavirus pandemic, stimulus packages are trying to help, but there are also scammers trying to capitalize on the desperation.

John Zimmer owns Zimmer’s Landscaping and Construction. He applied for loans and grants to help get through this crisis and almost immediately, the scams started.

“I started getting all these calls from people saying that they’re from the stimulus program,” Zimmer said. “ [They said] they need my social security number, they need my middle name, banking information to make a deposit.”

For a moment Zimmer thought the calls could be legitimate because he did apply for small business assistance, but he thought it was odd the caller wanted information he already provided on his application. So he started asking questions.

“Almost instantly the guy just kind of shut me out and hung up on me,” Zimmer said.

But Zimmer says he’s still getting calls and emails almost every day. He reported it to the Better Business Bureau.

“We’re seeing a massive approach on this, almost like robo-dialing,” said Jim Temmer, President of the Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin. “They’re sending so much out. They may get a list of small businesses from somewhere.”

Temmer says small businesses are vulnerable right now. In part because there is a lot of confusion about what help is available. The first stimulus package passed by Congress included billions in aide, but that money ran out in just a couple weeks. This week congress passed another bill, providing billions more to help small businesses.

“These loans, they were there, then they dried up and now they may come again,” Temmer said. “So there’s nothing but uncertainty with small businesses.”

The Small Business Administration and the Federal Trade Commission are also warning businesses to watch out.

Scammers will try and get personal information or ask you to pay a fee in order to expedite your loan application.

If you get a suspicious call, hang up. The government is not going to ask you for banking information or social security numbers over the phone. If you get emails, make sure there is an application number that matches the number on the application you filled out.

Zimmer says he reported what happened to him because he doesn’t want any business owner to fall victim.

“That business, whoever it may be, may already be suffering, then these people come along and take advantage of it,” Zimmer said.

You can find information about scams from the Better Business Bureau by CLICKING HERE.

You can also learn more about help available for small businesses during the pandemic by CLICKING HERE

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