4 Ways to Avoid Being Scammed While Networking

It's hard to succeed in business without networking. After all, the right connections can be the difference between making a name for your business or falling short of your goals—or downright failing as a business altogether. 

Networking requires you to trust strangers—at least in the beginning stages. But placing trust in the wrong hands, especially on a professional or business level, can lead to various problems, ranging from scams to sophisticated spear phishing attacks.

So, how do you know who to trust when networking to build your business or gain valuable contacts? We'll walk you through the guidelines. 

Verify Everything

The top rule of networking is to verify everything. So, when meeting someone new at a seminar, convention, or business mixer, take some time later to verify their credentials.  

If you have their business card, look up the company online and confirm that the information is correct. You may also search professional networking sites, like LinkedIn or any social media platform. If you're concerned about them being aware of your inquiry, some sites allow you to adjust your search settings to private. 

Remember, it's not creepy or odd to do this, and making sure people you meet are who they say they are is part of the networking landscape. Moreover, the people you meet will likely verify your credentials, too.

Most contacts will tell you the truth about themselves and their backgrounds, but it's always smart to check before building a relationship. 

Never Stop Asking 'Why?'

When networking, it never hurts to be a healthy skeptic. If someone you've met has taken a special interest in you or a specific project your company is working on, ask yourself why.

Perhaps this new potential contact is looking for secrets that would give them a competitive advantage in your industry, such as insights into a new product you're developing or a service you're planning to offer.

The person could also gather information they can use to launch a spear phishing attack against you or your company, such as details about your personal life or professional affiliations. 

A skeptical outlook can keep you from revealing too much information too soon and protects you until you've determined that the contact is legitimate. 

Look Beyond Face Value

Not everyone you encounter will be a cybercriminal or imposter, but until you know for sure, it pays to take a closer look.

Is the 'new building manager' who dropped in to say hello the real deal? Or a sophisticated social engineer hoping to trick you into providing key codes to your warehouse?

Is the delivery person who showed up to drop off packages simply carrying out their duties? Or are they casing the business to coordinate a theft after hours?

It's speculated that one of the most costly cybercrimes in corporate history, the cyber attack on Saudi Aramco, traces back to imposters who pirated login credentials and crippled the company's network. It cost the company millions of dollars a day in downtime, plus the loss and replacement of more than 30,000 computers.

Of course, not everyone you encounter will be a cybercriminal or imposter, but just because they seem legitimate doesn't mean you should immediately assume so. Trust your instincts, and check them out if you have any doubts. 

Be Vigilant When Networking Online

When networking online, it's even more critical to verify credentials, ask yourself why and keep from assuming everything is as it seems. 

Phishing, spear phishing, catfishing, and other cybercrimes thrive online because victims give criminals the benefit of the doubt—making networking online far trickier than it is in everyday life.

It's also easier than ever for criminals to fool unsuspecting networkers by faking identities and websites—or using open-source intelligence available online to scam trusting victims. 

Platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn are filled with personal and professional details that can be leveraged for scamming. With just a few facts and time on their hands, a sophisticated cybercriminal could craft a convincing phishing email to entice you to click, leading to a ransomware attack.

Professional networking and trust go hand in hand. While it's human nature to think the best of new contacts, be sure your trust is justified by using these helpful hints.