Precautions for small business data as Hacking leads to it.

An email hacker’s inroads into an organization that helps lead Downtown business may be enough of an alarm bell for the digital security of St. Joseph’s small merchants.

The recent cyberattack launched against Rhabecca Boerkircher, executive director of the St. Joseph Downtown Partnership, mentioned her name but was actually a hoax. The ruse had Boerkircher supposedly unable to leave Kiev, Ukraine, because she had been robbed. The mysterious author purported a need for $2,250 to facilitate her return to St. Joseph.

Boerkircher found out a quick response was necessary to get her computer back up and running on the heels of a determined hacker’s efforts. She likened the experience to losing a wallet.

“You’ve got to get in there and change your passwords as soon as possible. It’s not fun,” she said. “It’s important to back everything up.”

Tech Team, based in St. Joseph, stepped up with its information technology services and helped make those changes. Founders Jason Chase and Travis Hawkins are fully aware of the unrepentant attempts by criminals to gain the monetary high ground over their victims. Both men and their firm are steeped in aiding small businesses with vulnerabilities to various and sundry electronic data problems.

According to a December survey of owners by the National Small Business Association, cybercriminals raked in an average of $32,000 from small business accounts.

The Ransomware virus has been making itself known for the past three months, said Chase, Tech Team’s CEO. An email attachment is disguised as an invoice, leading the small business operator to believe the information is valid. Yet all files become encrypted once the email is opened, with a click of the attachment giving permission to install. He’s seen sums of $600 to $1,250 sought by the thieves. No anti-virus has been created as yet.

“We really encourage our clients to verify” communications with the sender, added Hawkins, the firm’s president.

The company encourages small businesses to favor good security software and malware detection and regularly change passwords. Not running the computer all the time as administrator provides another good dose of prevention, along with an off-site backup such as cloud storage and filter for e-mails.

More overseas hacking that targets businesses have become the norm, Tech Team said. Tracking this type of crime is not in the purview of the St. Joseph Police Department, according to spokesman Capt. Jeff Wilson.

However, police would become involved on the basis of IRS notices on scams such as those pertaining to tax returns, Wilson said.

Financial institutions form another line of defense in the small business cyber wars. Ron Barbosa, senior vice president of First Bank of Missouri, said those who seek to thwart the normal flow of electronic business have become very savvy at their craft. Most of those who immerse themselves in the deception are intercepted.

“It’s hard to pin down,” Barbosa said. “You can’t catch everybody.”

Contacting bank officials as soon as possible offers the best hope for identifying fraudulent debits to an account. Due diligence — for instance, checking account activity daily — is an important stance for businesses to take in countering the schemes.

“We have certain security devices that will alert us” to inappropriate transactions, he added.

The continued transition to card chip technology “may alleviate a lot of this,” Barbosa said.

Two St. Joseph businesses are reaping the benefits of Square, the secure credit card processing service.

“We’ve had an entirely positive experience” with the system, said Brean Reiley, manager of Paradox Theatre & Coffee — knowing that banks are on the lookout for debit card malfeasance. Customers have become acclimated to the changes.

“I feel like no matter what technology you use, you’re in danger,” she said.

The coffee shop and theater have become familiar with Square over the past two years. Competitors have become aware of the service and are trying to enter the industry, said Beau Walker, who owns both enterprises.

“We’ll be going to the (Square) chip reader shortly,” he said.

Cris Coffman, co-owner of Nesting Goods, has faith in the safety and security that accompany Square. A chip reader has been in use for about a month.

“We’ve had really good luck,” Coffman said. “That’s why we felt it was so important.”

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