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“The stress of the pandemic, along with a pressing need for resources, leaves Black women at risk of trusting individuals who offer a lifeline—even if it sounds too good to be true.”
“They reach out to say, ‘We can help you figure out accounting or taxes’ but I didn’t seek them out and I don’t know where they got my number from,” says Parker, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategist and career coach.
“I know better than to give out personal information over the phone to someone I don’t recognize,” she continues. “I [tell them] now’s not a good time, ask them to remove me from their list, or if they still don’t get it, simply hang up. It doesn’t feel good but, in some cases, you have to do that.”
While Parker has been cautious not to engage further with the unknown callers, this scenario is just one example of an increase in questionable activity and potential scams since coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March.
Upon the subsequent announcement of shelter-in-place orders around the country, the internet has seen a new wave of "experts" offering webinars, courses, and other services to those unsure of how to build or sustain income during this crisis.
Emotions and uncertainty are running high, which is exactly the kind of chaos scammers thrive in. The combination of financial ambiguity, quickly depleting government assistance, and smooth-talking con artists could be especially dangerous for Black women business owners.
As women of color-owned businesses have been historically underfunded due to lack of access to credit and start-up cash, the current economic decline is on track to deliver the final blow to ventures with an already shaky foundation.
The stress of the pandemic, along with a pressing need for resources, leaves Black women at risk of trusting individuals who offer a lifeline—even if it sounds too good to be true.
While the coronavirus pandemic is new territory for all of us, the systemic inequalities that face Black business owners have been in place long before now.
“Even prior to COVID-19, Black women were extremely aspirational in terms of starting businesses, launching their own enterprises, and taking the leap from employee to entrepreneur,” Lynette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach® and CEO and co-founder of AsktheMoneyCoach.com, tells Supermaker.
However, Khalfani-Cox adds, “The downside is that we typically have fewer resources, less in savings, sometimes lower credit scores, and less access overall to traditional forms of capital and financing.”
These obstacles have plagued Black women entrepreneurs for years, and have only been compounded in the current global crisis. Despite more than $349 billion in relief funds allocated to small business owners through the CARES act, experts estimated that up to 90 percent of minority and women business owners would be shut out from receiving financial assistance.
This is partially due to the fact that banks primarily issued loans to existing customers to expedite the approval process. This puts women (and especially women of color) business owners, many of whom did not previously have commercial banking relationships, at a disadvantage.
“We already face an uphill battle in what’s the number one financial challenge across the board for all business owners, which is access to capital,” Khalfani-Cox says. “Now with the pandemic, we’re seeing a lot of small businesses struggle even more.”
Further, in reference to the barriers to funding even in the current climate, she says, “Minority and women-owned businesses [are] being marginalized through various structural inequalities, and systems and processes that weren’t mindful—and sometimes outright exclusionary—in helping businesses who needed the most aid.”
With traditional funding out of reach and the future of their livelihood hanging in the balance, Black women entrepreneurs may be desperate for solutions, making them prime targets for financial scams. What are some tangible ways that Black women can protect themselves from scammers, especially when they’re fighting to keep their businesses afloat?
Those in need of support can join online communities like the Facebook group Hustle Crew, which has over 17,000 members and shares ongoing resources for business owners of color. Being in a group among fellow entrepreneurs and asking questions can help Black women stay vigilant, which Khalfani-Cox says is the best line of defense during this time.
“Women who are business owners need to be mindful about giving out any personal or business information, especially when they’re in a dire financial situation,” she says.
“Scammers will make outlandish promises like a 100 percent guarantee or that they can double your money overnight,” she continues.
This is a tactic that exploits what Khalfani-Cox describes as “confirmation bias,” which is the inclination to believe what you already hope to be true. And when you’re in a crisis, it’s much easier to trust someone who says what you want to hear, rather than admit that it’s not real.
Should you come across an opportunity that seems too good to pass up, it’s also helpful to check in with someone you trust for a second opinion, ideally another entrepreneur or business owner.
“It’s important to have a circle of people to rely on, who don’t necessarily have to be in the same industry as you but can offer support,” Parker says.
“I’ve been networking a lot with people who are independent contractors and consultants and they aren’t doing the same type of consulting work, but it’s nice to know other Black women who can share knowledge,” she continues.
The reality is that anyone can fall prey to a scam during stressful times, even an entrepreneur with good intuition and a solid support system. When this worst-case scenario happens, the natural instinct may be to keep silent for fear of judgment.
However, speaking up about an experience can help other business owners avoid falling into the same trap. Parker suggests first speaking with the person or company and making an attempt to resolve the issue, in the event that it’s a misunderstanding rather than an outright scam.
If that doesn’t work, it might be necessary to escalate, whether it’s through filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or leaving an online review. Parker emphasizes this should not be done as a retaliation or to bad mouth anyone, but as a method to raise awareness around unsavory business practices.
“We cannot collectively learn as Black entrepreneurs or business owners if we’re not sharing these experiences,” she concludes. “It’s one of those things historical to our community that we tend not to share because we don’t ‘want everybody in our business.’ But we have to share our business so other people don’t fall victim."
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