A Business Owner Confronts a Cyber Crime

Today’s Highlights: Companies demand paid family leave for workers. Influencers are selling a lot of books on TikTok. And General Mills offers a lesson in how not to handle customer complaints.

THE 21 HATS PODCAST

Episode 54: This week, Paul Downs tells Jay Goltz and Stephanie Stuckey about getting a surprising phone call from a fraud-reduction officer at a bank in Texas. Turns out, a couple of checks worth more than $140,000 that Paul was expecting from a client have been diverted to the account of an elderly woman in Texas who has already withdrawn $50,000 of the money. Since the checks never got to Paul, it appears the fraud occurred at the client’s office. But the owner of that business insists that Paul has been paid and whatever happened in Texas is his problem. “Now what do I do?” asks Paul.”

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HUMAN RESOURCES

Businesses are urging Congress to pass paid family leave: “In a letter sent Tuesday, executives for such brands as Patagonia, Etsy, Levi Strauss and Danone urged congressional leaders to extend comprehensive paid family and medical leave to all working people. Annie Sartor, a senior director at the advocacy group PL+US (Paid Leave for the United States), said the pandemic may have helped turn the tide of public opinion — and shift political will — to address the need for additional protections for workers. The letter calls for Congress to create a ‘permanent paid family and medical leave policy,’ but it does not offer specifics.”

  • “Sartor said that it was intentionally left broad but that the group wanted paid leave to address three key areas: leave for parents surrounding the birth of a child or an adoption, for people taking time to care for a sick family member, and personal sick and medical leave.”

  • “The United States is an outlier among developed and wealthy countries for its lack of a paid-leave requirement for workers. About 25 percent of American workers do not have paid sick leave, and the proportion is larger among lower-wage workers.” READ MORE

Amazon is forcing its drivers to submit to A.I. surveillance: “Amazon delivery drivers in the US now have to sign ‘biometric consent’ forms to continue working for the retailing giant. Exactly what information is being collected seems to vary based on what surveillance equipment has been installed in any given van, but Amazon’s privacy policy (embedded below) covers a wide range of data. The data that drivers must consent to be collected includes photographs used to verify their identity; vehicle location and movements (including ‘miles driven, speed, acceleration, braking, turns, following distance’); ‘potential traffic violations’ (like speeding, failure to stop at stop signs, and undone seatbelts); and ‘potentially risky driver behavior, such as distracted driving or drowsy driving.’”

  • “One driver speaking to the Thomson Reuters Foundation earlier this month said the cameras were an ‘invasion of privacy.’ ‘We are out here working all day, trying our best already,’ the driver, 22-year-old Henry Search, told the publication. ‘The cameras are just another way to control us.’”

  • “‘We are investing in safety across our operations and recently started rolling out industry leading camera-based safety technology across our delivery fleet,’ an Amazon spokesperson told The Verge. ‘This technology will provide drivers real-time alerts to help them stay safe when they are on the road.’” READ MORE

SOCIAL MEDIA

Influencer videos are selling thousands of books on TikTok: “An app known for serving up short videos on everything from dance moves to fashion tips, cooking tutorials and funny skits, TikTok is not an obvious destination for book buzz. But videos made mostly by women in their teens and 20s have come to dominate a growing niche under the hashtag #BookTok, where users recommend books, record time lapses of themselves reading, or sob openly into the camera after an emotionally crushing ending. These videos are starting to sell a lot of books, and many of the creators are just as surprised as everyone else.”

  • “Many Barnes & Noble locations around the United States have set up BookTok tables displaying titles like ‘They Both Die at the End,’ ‘The Cruel Prince,’ ‘A Little Life’ and others that have gone viral. There is no corresponding Instagram or Twitter table, however, because no other social-media platform seems to move copies the way TikTok does.”

  • “Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble: ‘We haven’t seen these types of crazy sales — I mean tens of thousands of copies a month — with other social media formats.’” READ MORE

FINANCE

Ami Kassar offers a reminder not to give up when one bank turns down your SBA loan application: “A few years ago, somebody I know was interested in an SBA loan and went to her local bank branch. There were some specific nuances to his situation, and the bank branch manager went back and forth with SBA people in another state. After a few weeks of back and forth, they told the borrower she was not qualified. The borrower was then tight for money and proceeded to get a high-interest on-line loan that in the end made his situation worse instead of better.”

  • “Here is the problem: the borrower assumed that what his bank was telling her was SBA policy and that there was no way to get an SBA loan. But the bank was communicating its policy—not the policy of SBA loans in general.” READ MORE

Startups are using equity crowdfunding to raise $5 million from retail investors, many of whom are customers: “Gumroad is just one of many startups capitalizing on a recent rule change from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which expands the amount so-called non-accredited investors--those who may not have income or asset thresholds required to be considered ‘accredited’—may invest in private companies by way of equity crowdfunding. As part of the 2012 Jobs Act, the SEC on March 15 raised the cap individual private companies may fetch from crowdfund investors to $5 million, up from $1.07 million.”

  • “The startup raised a total of $5 million from more than 7,000 non-accredited investors. Anyone with as little as $100 was able to buy a stake in the company.”

  • “The diversity of stakeholders has inherent benefits for founder-led companies. By letting thousands of non-traditional investors own equity, rather than a smaller group of professional investors, you're not only broadening everyone's risk, but you're also bringing more people to the table.”

  • “Equity crowdfunding platforms like Republic are ‘all-or-nothing,’ meaning if the amount your startup raises falls short of its funding goal, all the money is refunded to investors.” READ MORE

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THE COVID ECONOMY

Europe is struggling with lockdowns, infections, and vaccinations: “The mixture of pessimism, resignation, and anger contrasts with feelings of optimism elsewhere in the West, especially in the U.S. and the U.K., where vaccinations are progressing much faster and attention is moving to reopening the economy. Germany is a striking case of changing fortunes. The country fared well in the first phase of the pandemic last year, and authorities gained plaudits for keeping infections and deaths low. Now, after four months of largely ineffective lockdowns and with a slow and bureaucratic vaccination regime that hasn’t so far picked up speed, infections are soaring again and the government is seeing its poll ratings plummet.” READ MORE

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CUSTOMER SERVICE

After being told that a man found shrimp tails in a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, General Mills offers a lesson in how not to handle a complaint: “Eventually, Cinnamon Toast Crunch reached out to Mr. Karp through its brand Twitter account. ‘Privately, they were still being very nice,’ he said, offering to send a replacement box, which he politely declined. Then the brand issued a public statement on Twitter. ‘After further investigation with our team that closely examined the image, it appears to be an accumulation of the cinnamon sugar that sometimes can occur when ingredients aren’t thoroughly blended,’ the statement from Cinnamon Toast Crunch read. ‘We assure you that there’s no possibility of cross contamination with shrimp.’ That didn’t sit well with Mr. Karp ...”

  • He took another look in the cereal box: “In addition to a few objects that Mr. Karp described as ‘shrimp skins-looking things,’ ‘a small string’ and something that looked like a pistachio — all encrusted in sugar — he noticed a ‘small black piece’ on some of the squares at the bottom of the bag. These, he feared, could be rat feces.”

  • “Mr. Karp is frustrated with how General Mills handled the situation. ‘All you have to do is say, This is such a bummer, we’re going to look into it. We’re going to recall the ones from your Costco. Like, it’s such an easy PR thing to do,’ he said. ‘But instead, they wanted to basically gaslight me.’” READ MORE