Valley First

Small business scams increasingly sophisticated

Prevention is possible with a little knowledge, says security expert

March 29, 2016

Penticton, B.C.—Cyber scams cost Canadian small business owners $6,200 dollars on average last year, according to a report released by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. And, over the past 12 months, 20 per cent of small businesses fell victim to at least one form of fraud.

Ryan Smith, an IT Security Analyst at Valley First, a division of First West Credit Union, works with small businesses regularly and says fighting online fraud takes a combination of knowledge and technology.

“Securing your software and systems is one part of the solution,” Smith says. “However, making sure your employees can recognize a scam is even more important as it only takes one wrong click to inadvertently introduce a virus or welcome a scammer into your company’s system.

“The vast majority of successful cyberattacks result from human error. When everyone in your workplace is familiar with the ploys fraudsters use and they know not to be fooled, that’s your first line of defense.”

One way scammers take money from businesses is by getting an employee to unknowingly download ransomware—malicious software that encrypts a company’s files and makes their data inaccessible—and then demanding a ransom to get it back. This can cost a business thousands of dollars.

“Ransomware is the number one threat we’re seeing right now across all types of small, medium and large business,” says Smith. “The ransoms are generally easy to pay, so it ends up being very profitable for the scammers.”

Another prevalent scam is spear phishing, in which a scammer posing as an owner or executive sends a message to an employee asking for urgent help in transferring money or paying an invoice.

“Criminals will research your company, find out who runs it, find out who works in accounting and use that information to create an authentic-looking email,” Smith says. “Employees think it’s coming from a legitimate source and they want to be helpful, so they do what they’re asked.”

The money is then transferred into the hands of the cybercriminals. Fortunately, Smith says that most types of fraud can be prevented with awareness and common sense.

“Think before you click,” he says. “Look for any unusual details, verify the sender’s email address, follow up with a personal phone call if you’re still unsure, and don’t open an attachment unless you know it’s safe. You are your own best defense.”

For more resources on protecting yourself from online and other types of fraud, visit

About Valley First

Valley First is a premier provider of banking, investment and insurance services for residents and businesses in the Okanagan, Similkameen and Thompson valleys. As a division of First West Credit Union, B.C.'s third-largest credit union with 54 branches and 38 insurance offices throughout the province, Valley First brings innovative products, an extensive branch network and local decision making to the banking experience. For more information on Valley First, visit

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