IDENTITY THEFT: Online bandits target small businesses too - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

IDENTITY THEFT: Online bandits target small businesses too

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Maria Crane, owner and operator of Lazy Star Horse Company Maria Crane, owner and operator of Lazy Star Horse Company

It's important to protect your personal identity from thieves, but one Minnesota business owner found out the hard way that brands can also be targeted through social media scams.

Over the past eight years, Maria Crane has worked hard to build her business, the Lazy Star Horse Company.

"I do kids' camps, leasing," she explained. "I sell tack gear and horse supplies."

For Crane, teaching children how to ride and train horses is a lot easier than trying to track down the crooks trying to ride roughshod over her company's good name.

"It was kind of mind-blowing," she admitted. "Don't expect someone to take advantage of someone through a program that is about kids and horses and doing good."

According to Crane, it all began last month after a client asked to become friends with her business Facebook page -- but Crane never got the friend request. In fact, when she typed the name of her business into Google, she found someone else had created a fake profile complete with pictures and links to her actual website.

That fake Facebook profile also contained a plea to donate to Crane's horse rehab program, but the funds went to someone else's bank account.

"I work so hard for these horses and it would be sad to see someone take a contribution and have it not end up here," she said.

Crane isn't the only business owner left to try to rein in her online reputation. Dan Hendrickson, with the Better Business Bureau, told FOX 9 News commercial ID theft is becoming a more common problem for small business owners who may not notice they've been targeted until they hear from angry customers who believe they bought goods and services through a legitimate website.

"What scammers have figured out is, rather than an individual where they make a small score, they can make a big hit and some real money," Hendrickson said.

Crane got Facebook to take down the fake profile within a couple of days, but she still doesn't know who set it up or if any of her customers got taken for a ride. Now, she hopes online shoppers and philanthropists will be a bit more wary.

"My big message is: Do the research," she urged. "When you are making a contribution or donating to a program, contact the program and speak to the individuals. Make sure the money is going where you think it is."

For fellow business owners, she also has some advice.

"Google your name. Take steps to be proactive. If something happens, be ready to jump on it and get ahead of it because it's a big problem," she said.

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