How to keep scammers from infiltrating your text messages and making a fortune

glitching phone displaying a scam message that reads "enter for a chance to win", with many fishhooks coming out of the screen
For fractions of pennies, scammers can make hundreds or thousands of dollars from people clicking malicious links in text messages.

  • Scammers can exploit vulnerabilities in the phone system to blast dangerous links to your phone.
  • Insider got a look behind the scenes at an operation thwarting the scammers.
  • Scammers can make a significant payload off a small investment. Here’s how to stop them.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

They’re designed to strike the part of your brain that feels an instant obligation to fix something, and fix it now.

Your package has been lost. We noticed an error on your unemployment application. This message is from the CBE Group, a debt collector, please contact us. You have a package that is over a week old that will be returned to our warehouse. AT&T billed you incorrectly. Hi there, this is Jason from Walmart, you have an item addressed to you, can you please collect it by today?

Those messages aren’t really from the companies they purport to be. Manipulative, believable, and increasingly popular, criminals who want to bilk consumers out of money are orchestrating sophisticated phishing and scamming attacks using text messages.

For years, texts have become an increasingly integral part of commerce in America. Scammers, many of whom are ripping straight from the successful scam robocall playbook, are invading messaging apps with clever and deceptive messages designed to separate targets from their money or information, and the profits are ridiculous.

Essentially, the scammers have designed a computer that turns cents into dollars, and they’re only just getting started.

Because of the nature of the scams, it’s nearly impossible for the regulators or the carriers to stop them. Even when they do manage to slap them with a fine, the scammers just don’t pay it. But there are things consumers can do to stop them, and to protect vulnerable family members.

Scam texts 101

Aaron Foss, the founder of anti-spam app Nomorobo, offered Insider a look into the volume of scams coming into American phones.

Over the course of a week, Nomorobo observed 666,704 text messages come on to users’ phones from numbers that were not in their address book. About one in 10 – 9.98%, specifically – were flagged as malicious, attempts to scam the users, and were blocked by the service prior to hitting inboxes.

Foss and his company are constantly evaluating the flows of automated text messages across the system, identifying bad actors and shutting down their access in real time. It’s a never-ending fight, and the scammers are increasingly clever.

“We’re seeing that 10% of all unknown text messages, if they’re not in your contacts, are spam, scam, or phishing,” Foss said. “The vast majority do things like impersonate US Postal Service, Amazon, Costco. They usually have a link in there. They’ll say something like, ‘Congratulations, you’ve won some raffle,’ or ‘Thanks to COVID, Netflix is giving you a free account,’ or something like that.”

Your basic scammer is targeting someone who can be easily confused, who who isn’t attuned to the business practices of these companies. When they click the link, they’re sent to a “rewards” site, perhaps with the appearance of a game or a spinning wheel, and are told they won something.

In reality, after inputting their information, they’re signed up for a recurring app purchase.

The math is extremely simple for the scammers. If they spend a few dollars on the domain, send out hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of texts for a fraction of a penny apiece, even if just 0.1% click on it, and even if just five people get fooled, they’re up several hundred dollars.

“Once you have a system like that? You put $1 in one side, and it spits out $500 on the other side. You’re just gonna do every single thing that you can to find ways to do more and more,” Foss said. “Fine, I’ll work with six shady text messaging companies; fine, I’ll buy 1,000 domain names. It doesn’t matter at all, I’m not going to get caught. You’re not gonna catch me in this.”

But other, more sophisticated attacks can confuse and steal from people who aren’t so easily fooled.

Diagram of process that a robotext takes before making it to your cell phone, starting with a fake domain generator, followed by unique user codes, carried through a bad phone carrier on to your cellphone

Gone phishing

The goal of a phisher is to get personal information that can be used to steal. The modus operandi is to spam out a message that directly appeals to a subset of the population – something like “there’s an error on your unemployment form” or “your Amazon package is late.”

These are effective because text spam is a numbers game: Amazon sends out 1.6 million packages every day, and because of the pandemic, millions of Americans are on some form of unemployment right now. The low cost of text messages – a quarter of a cent per text, when bought in bulk – means that the numbers game favors the scammers.

“There’s going to be a good proportion of people who think, ‘Actually, yeah, COVID pandemic, I need that money to survive.’ They click and put in their information,” Foss said. “In a couple of these, we’ve done some digging where the scammers that put this together are very poor programmers, and left a lot their stuff open. You can see all the victims that they’ve gotten. There’s hundreds of people that have unfortunately fallen for the scam and put in their information.”

These are well-designed rip-offs. Can you tell the difference between the actual Ohio unemployment site, and a fake unemployment site Foss spotted last week?

A page that appears to be the Ohio Unemoployment site
A page that appears to be the Ohio Unemoployment site

Give up?

It’s the URL. The scammers are algorithmically buying up fake but similar URLs to actual websites, and then spamming them out en masse, with the understanding that they have just a few hours until they’re shut down.

This particular registration, per documentation Foss sent over, had an IP address in Russia and had been obtained very recently.

“They know that they’re only going to get a couple of hours out of that URL,” Foss said. “When we see that it’s usually automated, it is actually one registrar that particularly turns a blind eye to these kinds of things.”

The scammers send the messages out through wholesale carriers. Wholesale carriers are smaller providers that sell access to the same phone system used by your carrier, which could be AT&T or Verizon. There are thousands of theses smaller carriers: following the deregulation of the US telecommunications industry, anyone can technically set up a carrier that can get their message into the US phone system, at which point it’s treated equal to any other text. The scammers simply need to find the weak link in the chain, a carrier willing to take money from sketchy texters.

“These are resellers, a wholesale carrier might sell to another wholesale carrier, which sells to another company, and you might be three or four steps down,” Foss said. “In general, they will find overseas companies, or domestic companies that they’ll look the other way.”

The phone number they send the text from is spoofed, the imitation website they built is designed to last on the order of hours, and typically there’s a personal identification value somewhere on the URL so if a person clicks once, the scammer knows they’re a number that’s likely to click again, so even if they don’t get you this time, they’ll have plenty of other chances.

After all, when the texts are a quarter of a penny and the domain name is a couple dollars, they don’t need a lot of people to be fooled in order to break even.

And when state unemployment offices use Social Security numbers as their usernames, the effects of falling for a phishing attack can have substantial long-term impacts beyond a thief stealing unemployment payments.

“The part of this that’s really the worst? They really are taking advantage of people that are already down on their luck,” Foss said. “The pandemic comes in, and you lose your job, and you need a way to eat and afford rent, and now you get scammed from somebody trying to steal your unemployment benefits.”

How to spot scam texts and how to stop them

Operating a robotext operation is ridiculously profitable, but often low-risk. When operators work outside the United States, it can be incredibly difficult to enforce actions against them.

Even when there is enforcement, collecting sizable fines is a separate matter. The FCC ordered TCPA violators to pay $208 million in fines from 2015 to 2019, but it only collected $6,790 as of 2019.

A spokesperson for the FCC declined to comment about any specific company or FCC investigatory methods or challenges.

The FCC did send a number of recommendations, urging consumers to “think twice before clicking any links in a text message,” and to “report texting scam attempts to your wireless service provider by forwarding unwanted texts to 7726.” The Federal Trade Commission offers a number of resources explaining the package phishing scams and other fake calls from Amazon or Apple. The Department of Justice is currently investigating unemployment-related fraud, including phishing scams.

Texting STOP will put an end to any legitimate marketer – lest they face thousands of dollars in FCC fines – but a scammer won’t care in the slightest. It would have the same effect as saying “STOP” to a mugger. If they don’t care about the possible consequences of doing identify theft, they probably aren’t worried about an FCC fine they’ll likely never pay anyways.

Applications that insert a filter between your cellphone and the wild west of the text messaging infrastructure may be the most effective way to screen out malicious texts.

“These guys are criminals,” Foss said. “They’re criminal businesses. They’re really good criminals. And they’re really good businesses. And when you put them together, this is what we got.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

As denying climate change becomes impossible, fossil-fuel interests pivot to ‘carbon shaming’

illustration of fingers pointing at a black private jet with Leonardo DiCaprio, Prince Harry, and Al Gore
  • Fossil-fuel interests no longer bother denying that climate change is real.
  • So they’ve pivoted to new tactics, including painting climate advocates as hypocrites.
  • Drawing attention to advocates’ non-eco-friendly habits undermines their credibility and distracts from policy changes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After Prince Harry told Oprah Winfrey that climate change and mental health are two of the “most important issues facing the world today,” the New York Post threw the words back at him. In a story earlier this week, the Post reported that the “double-talking dilettante” had taken a private plane from Colorado to California.

Sky News and The Times too, have lambasted Harry’s carbon-intensive jetsetting. All three publications are tied to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which previously denied the science of climate change. Murdoch is on the advisory board of Genie Energy, an energy company that invests in oil and gas projects.

London mayor Sadiq Khan, an anti-pollution advocate, got similar treatment from The Sun, another Murdoch-owned publication, for flying 32,000 miles between 2016 and 2019 and purchasing 4.3 million paper towels in a year.

According to Michael Mann, an atmospheric science professor at Pennsylvania State University, these types of stories are part of a larger strategy: Groups that support the continued use of fossil fuels have increasingly begun to point out climate advocates’ seemingly hypocritical behavior, rather than denying that climate change is real. It’s one of many new strategies the fossil-fuel industry has adopted, according to Mann’s latest book “The New Climate War.”

Mann told Insider that in his view, “2009-2010 was the last hurrah for good old fashioned climate-change denialism.” By 2019, 62% of Americans agreed that climate change was affecting their day-to-day lives.

“It’s beyond not being able to deny the science,” he said. “It’s now a matter of having to deny reality.”

Hurricane delta flooding louisiana car street baker
A car moves through a flooded street as Hurricane Delta approaches, in Baker, Louisiana, October 9, 2020.

So instead of hammering the “climate change isn’t happening” message, the fossil-fuel industry now seems to be fostering finger-pointing and infighting among environmentalists. That siphons time and attention away from efforts to bring about systemic changes to cut emissions – policies like carbon taxes, incentives for renewable energy, or restrictions on fossil-fuel infrastructure.

“What better way to discredit thought leaders and key messengers than to tar them as hypocrites based on accusations that they don’t walk the walk?” Mann said.


‘Mr. Global Warming?’

leonardo dicaprio
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Gore, and Barack Obama have all been targets of this “climate hypocrisy” line of attack.

DiCaprio started a multi-million dollar environmental conservation fund and used his 2016 Oscars speech to talk about the climate crisis. But when he flew from France to New York in a private jet to accept an environmental award later that year, the headlines followed.

“Hollywood hypocrite’s global warming sermon,” the Herald Sun‘s read. (The Herald Sun also belongs to Murdoch’s news empire.) The New York Post called DiCaprio a “megapolluter” and “Mr. Global Warming,” and suggested that the actor’s flight “expanded his carbon footprint by 8,000 miles in about 24 hours.”

Gore, meanwhile, is known for the 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” But after he starred in a sequel to the film in 2017, an op-ed in The Daily Caller suggested that Gore’s home devoured 34 times more energy than the average US household. The Daily Caller, founded by Tucker Carlson, received $3.5 million in funding from the Koch Family Foundations and the Charles Koch Institute in the last decade. According to Greenpeace, the Koch brothers spent $15 million to finance 90 groups that attacked climate science and policy between 1997 and 2018.

Al Gore
Former US vice president Al Gore signs “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Truth” at Barnes & Noble, 5th Avenue on August 2, 2017 in New York City.

The Daily Caller piece was written by Drew Johnson, founder of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a libertarian think tank. Johnson was, for the most part, doubling down on a tactic that had worked for him a decade earlier.

“He tells other people how to live and he’s not following his own rules,” Johnsen told ABC in 2007, after the center published a report describing how Gore’s 20-room home used 20 times as much electricity as the average American house.

The criticism of Obama came in 2019, when an op-ed in the Hill blasted him for buying a house in Martha’s Vineyard. Purchasing ocean-front property, the piece argued, suggests one isn’t actually worried about sea-level rise. The article was written by Katie Pavlich, an alumna of the Young Americans’ Foundation – an outreach organization of the conservative movement with financial ties to the Koch Brothers.

“If the former president is truly concerned about sea levels rising as a result of climate change,” Pavlich wrote, “his latest real estate purchase places doubts on his sincerity.”

That type of argument, Mann said, directs attention away from the companies emitting the carbon that contributes to sea-level rise.

“It would be funny if it weren’t so pernicious,” he added.


‘Carbon shaming’

tunisair flight fight brawl
A Tunisair flight takes off.

Shaz Attari, a climate-communications researcher at Indiana University Bloomington, thinks this new tactic is working. Her research suggests that scientists and communicators with large carbon footprints have less credibility than those with reduced carbon consumption, and that people are more likely to support policies or recommendations if the leader promoting them has a small carbon footprint.

“When it comes to message uptake, advocates are judged for inconsistency between their behavior and advocacy,” Attari told Insider. “This judgement is dominated by flying or home energy consumption.”

Attari said she even once gave a talk in New York City about reducing personal energy use, and someone in the audience asked: “Hey, you flew to this meeting – why should I listen to what you say?”

“The tactic of carbon shaming is quite an effective way of inciting infighting among climate advocates,” Mann said. “There are armies of bots and trolls deployed to generate these arguments online of, ‘Why do you fly?’ ‘Why aren’t you a vegan?'”


‘Climate sadism’

Mark Maslin, an Earth science researcher at the University College London, told Insider that “attacking the messenger has always been part and parcel” of fossil-fuel interests’ strategy to counter environmental movements.

What’s changed, he said, is the tenor of these attacks, which Maslin says have escalated into a vicious pageantry of “climate sadism.”

Take, for example, the backlash against Greta Thunberg. The teenage activist is a difficult target for the hypocrisy argument, since she doesn’t eat meat or fly. One staff member at the Heartland Institute, a Koch-funded think tank, did point out that the boat Thunberg once used to cross the Atlantic was made of plastic, but for the most part, conservatives and anti-environmentalists have chosen to target Thunberg’s personality instead.

greta thunberg
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the ‘Friday Strike For Climate’ on March 6, 2020, in Brussels, Belgium.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called her a “little brat” in 2019. Donald Trump said she had an “anger management problem.”

Conservative commentator Michael Knowles called Thunberg, who has Asperger’s syndrome, “a mentally ill Swedish child” on Fox News. Fox host Laura Ingraham, meanwhile, compared the Thunberg’s youth climate movement to a murderous cult of children from a Stephen King novel.

“The blowback is directly related to the impact you’re having,” Kristen Cobb, a climate scientist from Georgia Tech, told Insider. Thunberg’s movement, she added, was “striking a nerve with every single human on the planet at that point.”

greta thunberg selfie
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg takes a selfie during a Fridays for Future demonstration in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2019.

The Heartland Institute even briefly worked with the German anti-environmental group EIKE to hire a German teenager, Naomi Seibt, to fashion herself as an antithesis to Thunberg.

“Many people believe I’m being pushed as an ‘Anti-Greta,'” Seibt told Insider last year.

“It’s wrong to look up to her as a climate puppet and symbol,” Seibt said of Thunberg, adding, “I don’t want people to panic about the world ending.”

Over the course of four months, for a monthly salary of $2,000, Seibt produced videos for the institute like “Naomi Seibt vs. Greta Thunberg: Whom should we trust?” and spoke at the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference. Seibt quietly parted ways with Heartland in April 2020.

“The Anti-Greta just shows how cynical they are,” Mann said, adding, “they think it’s all a shell game about distraction and deception – that’s what they’ve got left.”

Exxon refinery
An oil refinery.

In Prince Harry’s case, reports about his plane flights do seem to have discredited the prince’s climate agenda. A recent Newsweek poll in the UK found that 66% of respondents viewed the prince as “hypocritical on air travel.” But the number most stories about Harry’s trip left out is the US’s total emissions from fossil fuels: 4,853 million metric tons of carbon in 2019 alone.

Harry’s private flight from Aspen to Santa Barbara, meanwhile, emitted at most 9 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The lawyers making money behind the scenes of emerging fields like crypto, cannabis, and the influencer economy

back view of a lawyer holding legal documents against a blue background with motifs of bitcoin, marijuana, and the instagram logo
Lawyers are in the background of every emerging industry, drafting contracts and interpreting laws.

  • Entrepreneurs are making billions of dollars in emerging industries like cannabis and crypto.
  • Lawyers are behind the scenes, inking deals, and navigating ever-changing regulatory landscapes.
  • Insider tracked down the most powerful attorneys shaping the highest growth industries.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

19 crypto and blockchain-focused lawyers who are inking deals, fighting lawsuits, and navigating fast-evolving regulations

Digital assets have boomed over the past decade, moving from a niche hobby to a mainstream investment. Big names like MassMutual, MicroStrategy, and Tesla have bought Bitcoin; PayPal and Square’s CashApp have made it easy to buy crypto with the tap of a finger; and major financial players like BNY Mellon and Visa and Mastercard have said they’re planning to offer custody and transaction services for certain digital assets.

Meanwhile, lawyers have been riding the wave, helping clients reimagine finance while avoiding lawsuits, scandals, and enforcement actions.

Read the full story here.

The top law firms putting together blockbuster cannabis deals worth billions

As more states legalize recreational cannabis use, companies are scrambling to capture new markets and scale up. But cannabis is still federally illegal in the US, and that’s where lawyers come in.

Insider pulled the 10 largest cannabis-industry deals worldwide since the start of 2020, including M&A, capital raises, and debt financing, and pinpointed which law firms worked on them.

Read the full story here.

The top lawyers who work with YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram creators

Social media isn’t just an idle pastime: it fuels a $15 billion influencer industry. As digital creators eat up more attention in entertainment, law firms that once focused on representing TV and movie stars are now chasing after YouTubers and TikTokers.

To better understand how influencers are transforming entertainment law, Insider compiled a list of the leading law firms that represent digital creators across YouTube, Instagram, and other social-media platforms.

Read the full story here.

The bankers, brokers, and big money transforming litigation finance from a lawyer’s hustle to a multibillion-dollar asset class

Commercial litigation funding, in which investors advance money to businesses for the costs of lawsuits, is booming. Litigation funders now have $11.3 billion invested or ready to invest in US commercial litigation, according to a recent estimate by Westfleet Advisors.

Insider spoke to dozens of funders, lawyers, and finance professionals to learn the names of lawyers and companies transforming the industry.

Read the full story here.

The top lawyers, advisors, salespeople behind the SPAC boom

SPACs raised more than $80 billion in 2020, more than five-times the previous year’s total. Insider spoke with more than a dozen people in the industry to identify the biggest lawyers and bankers behind the SPAC boom.

Read the full story here.

18 immigration lawyers who help tech startups land top talent from abroad

Immigration lawyers hold the keys to a startup’s No. 1 competitive advantage: its people. They help growing companies hire the best talent from anywhere, steering them through a daunting US immigration system that places higher scrutiny on startups than big corporations. Insider reporters identified the top immigration attorneys helping startups and their founders secure work visas.

Read the full story here.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Shoplifting syndicates are costing retailers billions every year. Industry insiders are pointing to the ease of online reselling for helping crime rings thrive.

a power drill on top of a yellow background with a large padlock and alarm symbols
Home Depot’s special power tools are just the latest anti-theft measure for a brick-and-mortar retailer.

  • Retailers are voicing concerns that e-commerce has prompted a spike in professional shoplifters boosting high-value items to sell online.
  • Brick-and-mortar advocates are arguing that online sellers need to take more action to stop theft.
  • But critics say some anti-theft measures could hurt small online sellers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Among well-lit rows of drills, lawn care equipment, and power washers, all still carefully packaged, a small American flag hangs over a shelf of Milwaukee Tools, a Home Depot-exclusive brand.

Without context, it looks like it could have been any Home Depot warehouse. But this video footage, viewed by Insider, doesn’t depict a fulfillment center, or even the stock room of a Home Depot store. It captures a secret California warehouse stocked with goods stolen from the home improvement giant. It was shot by one of Home Depot’s own organized retail crime investigators in 2020, as police served a search warrant on the storage facility. All in all, the warehouse contained millions of dollars in stolen products.

That’s just one snapshot of a crime wave that’s been building for years. Back in 2011, the FBI posited that “organized retail crime” was a $30 billion industry. And industry operators say the problem has only grown since then. A 2020 survey from the National Retail Federation found that organized retail theft has seen a nearly 60% increase from 2015, now averaging $719,548 for every $1 billion in sales.

Retailers are now sounding the alarm on spiking theft statistics and the role of e-commerce platforms as “fences.” Traditionally, fences have taken the form of pawn shops or flea markets, but the rise of online shopping has turned this on its head. Brick-and-mortar retailers complaining that thieves are increasingly hawking pilfered products online, but e-commerce platforms argue that regulating sites will just stifle competition.

home depot organized retail crime
Police seize items, including some stolen from a Home Depot.

Retail companies have implemented a number of initiatives to combat these targeted thefts. Recently, Home Depot released power tools that won’t work unless they’re properly scanned and activated at the register via Bluetooth technology. The retailer is also looking to continue to introduce technology to combat theft, rather than locking up products. Stores have experimented with lockable cart wheels that freeze up if a person shoves a cartload of goods outside without paying. Others resort to controversial facial recognition tools, often in addition to other security measures, to assist in identifying thieves. Critics say that, without regulation, this technology could end up violating human rights.

Jason Brewer, the spokesperson for the Buy Safe America Coalition, a lobby group for the retail industry, spoke with Insider about the efficient, intricate shadow businesses of professional shoplifters.

“This is a professional criminal,” Brewer said. “They’re not looking to steal food for dinner, or something they need because they can’t afford it. They are stealing specific items that they know they can resell online.”

Brewer said that organized retail crime rings vary in terms of their size, origin, and specialty. He said that some could be connected to larger organized crime outfits. For those major players, organized retail crime is yet another business in a portfolio that may also include narcotics sales, human trafficking, and gunrunning. Smaller rings could just be a group led by a figure that can convince desperate people – sometimes impoverished, unhoused, and drug-dependent persons – to steal in exchange for a small cut of money. Shoplifting ring “CEOs” will pass down a product list to low-level members, who then must go out and steal those items in order to get paid.

“The leaders don’t really care what happens to the runners,” Scott Glenn, Home Depot’s vice president of asset protection, told Insider. “They’re just paying them a hundred bucks a day, but the runners will bring back thousands of dollars worth of product that then gets resold for profit.”

But despite their ubiquity, Glenn said it is important not to underestimate shoplifting groups. He said that they can be helmed by “good administrators” and function somewhat akin to shadow businesses. Glenn said that in some cases, these professional shoplifters will steal “right up to that felony threshold” without ever crossing the line.

Most states have a felony theft threshold, meaning that a person who steals money or property valued over a certain amount can be charged with felony, rather than misdemeanor, theft. The NRF notes that these syndicates often look for “a mix of valuable high-end products and cheap but easier to fence everyday necessities.”

“They know that nothing’s going to happen if it doesn’t pass that certain level,” Glenn said. “They’ll steal up to that amount and they’ll go to the next door and they’ll steal up to that amount.”

‘It really hits retailers from multiple directions’

Brewer and Glenn said the proliferation of e-commerce has also led to a boom in criminals fencing stolen goods online. Glenn said that not all online sales platforms “have the same level of control and vetting” when it comes to merchants, while Brewer said that no online platform is currently doing enough to combat crime.

And all this means that retailers feel they are battling exponential growth in organized theft that everyday shoppers are likely not aware of. In the 2020 NRF survey, 59% of respondents said they’d spotted stolen merchandise from their company being sold on websites – that’s up 9% from 2018.

Brewer also said that online platforms need to do away with anonymity for sellers in order to combat organized retail crime. The Buy Safe Coalition is backing the INFORM Consumers Act, a bill that would force online platforms to authenticate “high-volume third-party sellers.”

Home Depot organized retail crime
Police seize items, including some stolen from a Home Depot.

“If the marketplaces have to start verifying the people selling on their platform and providing that information to the public, it’s going to be a lot harder for people to sell stolen goods,” Brewer said.

Online platforms have pushed back against the idea that they’re allowing thieves to run rampant on their sites. eBay has touted its efforts to remove suspicious listings, as well as its initiatives to protect copyright and trademark owners, community members dealing with unsafe goods, and third-party brands.

“eBay is fully committed to providing a safe and secure online shopping experience to millions of people globally and we have zero tolerance for criminal activity on our platform,” an eBay spokesperson told Insider. “We believe collaboration and cooperation between law enforcement, retailers and marketplaces is the best way to combat fraud and organized retail crime.”

An Amazon spokesperson told Insider that the company in 2020 invested $700 million and a workforce of 10,000 to “prevent fraud and abuse in our store.”

“Amazon does not allow third-party sellers to list stolen goods in our store, and we work closely with law enforcement, retailers, and brands to stop bad actors and hold them accountable, including withholding funds, terminating accounts, and making law enforcement referrals,” an Amazon spokesperson told Insider.

Home Depot organized retail crime
Police seize items, including some stolen from a Home Depot.

The Makers and Merchants Coalition, a trade group that represents third-party online sellers, has come out against the INFORM Act. It argues that there “is no need to require private citizens to disclose their personal information to the public to sell a small number of products online.”

“The true mission of the INFORM Act is to eliminate big-box retail’s competition by hurting small sellers,” spokesperson Katie Wright said in a statement sent to Insider. “The Act does nothing to stop stolen goods at their main source, brick and mortar retail stores, but does threaten to compromise the safety and personal information of small online sellers who use larger marketplaces to sell their products.”

Wright said that online marketplaces already “collect personal information from sellers as one of the many measures taken to prevent the sale of millions of stolen and counterfeit products every year.”

But Glenn and Brewer stressed the threat that organized retail crime posed. Both said that, when desperate, professional shoplifters could pose a physical threat to shoppers and retail employees. Glenn said if left unchecked, mass theft could push higher prices onto consumers, while Brewer said that smaller stores could shutter.

“Not only is the retailer having the merchandise stolen from them, but then somebody is competing with them online by selling the same product for half the price because it’s stolen,” he said. “So it really hits retailers from multiple directions.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Vintage home decor sellers have quietly taken over Instagram during the pandemic: ‘It’s like doing a huge yard sale with all of your friends all the time online’

Hand holding a phone with the screen facing up and projecting above it assorted vintage furniture items surrounded by Instagram notifications, against a teal background with a retro pattern
  • There’s a thriving underground community of vintage housewares sellers on Instagram.
  • The community has ballooned during the pandemic as people seek to decorate their homes.
  • Sellers say it’s an exhausting but rewarding job, like “a huge yard sale with all of your friends.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In early April, I was wasting time on Instagram when something stopped me mid-scroll.

It was a vintage lamp, about three feet tall, with three glass bulbs in the shape of giant flowers attached to it. I had never seen anything like it, and I had to have it.

Luckily, buying it was easy: All I had to do was direct-message the person who posted it, Venmo her the appropriate payment, and schedule a time to swing by her house to pick it up. Less than a week later, I was the proud owner of an unusual vintage lamp – and I had also made my first foray into the thriving, underground world of vintage housewares resellers on Instagram.

It’s a community that has ballooned during the pandemic, when we’ve spent more time at home than ever before and have become acutely aware of how our homes look, not only to ourselves, but to our coworkers over Zoom. At the same time, home decor has begun trending in a distinctly vintage direction, millennials and Gen Zers have started to place more emphasis on sustainability, and ongoing global supply chain issues have made it difficult to buy anything new.

It’s led many people – myself included – down the vintage home-goods rabbit-hole.

Vintage resellers who spoke with Insider described a hobby born of genuine passion that’s morphed into a nonstop gig. While the sheer amount of work it takes to keep their shops operational can get overwhelming, they said, they’re also been surprised by the supportive community that’s sprung up of both sellers and buyers on Instagram.

“It’s like doing a huge yard sale with all of your friends all the time online,” Reed Van Dyck, the owner of a Denver-based shop called Good Chance Goods, told Insider.

A post shared by good chance goods (@goodchancegoods)

‘Things are just so much better when they have a story’

Vintage resellers have been offering up their wares online on sites like eBay and Etsy for years. But recently, some of those sellers – many of them millennial women – have set up shop on Instagram, where they’ve built their businesses on the back of the social media site.

The four sellers I spoke with for this story have all followed the same playbook: They’ve sourced furniture and home decor from thrift shops, estate sales, and sites like Facebook Marketplace, built Instagram accounts stocked with stylish photos of a highly curated selection of furniture and home decor, negotiated sales over DM, and handled payments using third-party platforms like Venmo or PayPal.

But while these beautifully photographed and highly curated pages may seem effortless, they take an enormous amount of work and require sellers to be almost glued to their phones.

When sellers post an item, they ask buyers to comment “Sold” on the post in order to claim it, and then move to DMs to handle the rest of the sale. But as these sellers gain followers, buying becomes more competitive. Van Dyck said that she sometimes has as many as five people trying to claim an item at the same time.

“I have to look at, you know, one was [posted in] 11 seconds, and one was 10 seconds, and I have to message the person that was nine seconds,” she said.

Van Dyck pointed out that Instagram is “not set up to be a seller’s business tool,” which means that sellers have to sift through dozens of DMs, remembering who bought what, in order to get items shipped out. The “always on” nature of the business can be exhausting, she said, especially since she’s balancing her shop with a full-time job at a startup.

“I felt like I would be on my phone for hours, just staring at my phone, just not wanting to miss a message or miss a comment,” she said.

Van Dyck said she recently gave herself some time off from vintage selling after feeling like she was getting burnt out and got a lot of messages of support from her community of followers.

“I think that right now we’re all kind of collectively going through this, ‘What matters to us?’ kind of phase in our lives,” she said. “This is something that really matters to me, but at the same time, it’s still a job.”

A post shared by c u r a t e d • v i n t a g e (@the_curatedvintage)

Jessica Ferrandino, the owner of The Curated Vintage, an Instagram-based shop she operates out of her home on Long Island, New York, told Insider that after she was furloughed from her job as a social worker in February, she decided to set up a shop on Instagram because there are no overhead costs.

Plus, she likes how personal it is: “Instead of a customer just dropping an item into their cart and checking out, we get to converse,” she said.

Ferrandino’s shop is full of items like wine coolers, book ends, and coffee tables in marble and glass, and she said that while she does extensive research on trends and designers, her final question while she’s hunting for products is always whether she’d keep it for herself.

“It’s definitely led me to putting down pieces that I’m sure would have sold, but that’s OK with me,” she said. “It means more to me to remain true to myself, and I hope the customers feel that.”

If you’re wondering, yes, Ferrandino’s house is very full.

“Inventory from the shop is just literally all over our house,” she said. “We have it in our in the office, in the living room, in the dining room, even in our bedroom. We’re constantly moving these heavy tables from room to room.”

A post shared by Boho To Go Vintage Store 🪞🪑🚚 (@boho_to_go)

Jen Lavigne, who owns a Richmond, Virginia-based shop called Boho to Go, started to resell vintage furniture and housewares on Instagram as a side business in 2018 – by late 2019, it had grown so much that she was able to quit her full-time job as a registered nurse to focus solely on Boho to Go.

She now has a showroom in Richmond that’s open on the weekends, but she still conducts most of her sales online.

As the popularity of vintage has grown, thrift store prices have become higher and people have become more aware of the quality of what they have. It’s made buying products to keep her shop stocked more challenging, Lavigne said.

“Do I spend $5,000 this week? Do I spend $500 this week? And will that money come back to me next week, or will it come back to me in the next three weeks?” she said. “I feel like I’m gambling sort of in a way.”

Lavigne said she spends Tuesdays and Thursdays every week on the road, driving up to four hours to buy vintage goods. For some items, extensive cleaning, repairing, and refinishing is required, which Lavigne said she learned how to do entirely on YouTube. She then sets aside two full days to photograph the items, upload them, and craft the perfect captions.

“I work seven days a week,” she said. “People don’t understand why we’re not open every day of the week, and it’s like, ‘Because I can’t just order in more vintage.'”

A post shared by botanics & ceramics (@botanicsandceramics)

Anna Hartzell, the owner of Buffalo, New York-based shop Botanics & Ceramics, has been operating her shop since 2019. Hartzell sold me my vintage lamp, and I attest that her products often sell instantly – I’ve turned on Instagram alerts for her posts and people still almost always beat me to the punch.

Hartzell said she has a core group of customers who like knowing the person they’re buying from, but at the same time, she’s received her fair share of skepticism about her business model.

“I’ve had a few people come at me like, ‘Oh, you’re just going and buying stuff from [thrift store] Savers and reselling it,'” she said. “And it’s like, OK, well, you go and do it. Anybody can go out there and thrift, their stores are open for everybody. But it’s hard for a lot of people to not only take the time to go and do it, but it’s harder to search for things than people realize.”

Still, Hartzell said she’s seen a shift since starting up her shop two years ago, one that accelerated during the pandemic: Customers increasingly want products that will hold up over time, and have become more aware than ever of their environmental footprint.

“There’s nothing wrong with saving up for a piece of furniture from Ikea or Target that you love, that you’ve been eyeing forever,” but, she said, “things are just so much better when they have a story.”

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Shopify witnessed both stellar growth and cultural challenges in the last 12 months. Here’s what you need to know.

Shopify CEO Tobias Lutke in front of a pixelated Shopify logo on a green background
  • Shopify saw outsized growth in 2020 as the pandemic brought more businesses online.
  • But it has also seen some cultural changes, with a wave of longtime employees departing.
  • Here’s a rundown of Insider’s reporting on Shopify, including recent departures and cultural issues.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Shopify has been going through some big changes after a year of monster growth.

Founded in 2006, Shopify found success with a business model of providing e-commerce tools to small and medium-sized businesses lacking large technology budgets. That success accelerated in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to take their e-commerce operations more seriously, some for the first time, and consumer shopping habits shifted online.

The trends were apparent in Shopify’s financials: It reported 86% revenue growth for 2020. Its gross merchandise volume – or the total sales conducted on the platform – grew 96% year over year.

Insiders say that the past year has meant changes for Shopify’s culture, too. Current and former Shopify employees say there’s been a “wave” of turnover, both in the company’s C-suite and in its middle ranks. Frustration over how CEO Tobi Lütke and other leaders handled a series of racial incidents in the summer of 2020 also came to light.

Here’s a rundown of Insider’s reporting on Shopify, including recent departures, cultural issues, growth ambitions, and high-profile partnerships.

Cultural stumbles frustrated some employees

Current and former employees told Insider about a series of incidents in which they felt company leadership failed to properly respond to internal debate on racial issues in the summer of 2020. With protests in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd also taking place at the time, tensions were high.

One such incident involved a conversation among staff about the uploading of a noose emoji to Shopify’s Slack messaging system. As the discussions grew heated, Lütke changed a Slack channel where debate was taking place to be read only. A few weeks after, he sent an email to managers clarifying his stance on the role that companies should play in their employees’ lives.

Shopify is losing a number of key executives

Two Shopify executives in their headshots from the company before they left.
Chief Talent Officer Brittany Forsyth and Chief Legal Officer Joe Frasca both recently left Shopify.

Shopify announced in April that its chief talent officer, chief technology officer, and chief legal officer would be leaving the company soon. The news followed the departure of Shopify’s chief product officer in September.

But Shopify has also had departures in its middle ranks. Insider counted at least three vice presidents, one general manager, one managing director, and 11 directors who have left the company since June 2020. Several are leaving to invest in startups or launch their own companies. Some employees have said that Lütke’s management style could be driving people away.

Shopify is poised to grow even more

Shopify has been continually launching new products and entering into new partnerships with Facebook and Google intended to further its reach. This comes as the company sets its sights on further dominating the e-commerce market while fending off Amazon.

Shopify works with more than 1.7 million merchants and has ambitions to attract even more businesses to its platform by launching new products and services. It also plans to hire more than 2,000 engineers in 2021. Shopify now employs more than 7,000 employees.

Read the original article on Business Insider

We tried to predict the best places to move during the pandemic. The results are in, and we were half right.

Postcards of Champaign-Urbana, Cheyenne, Rochester, and Huntsville taped on orange paper, with truck and house stickers
  • We looked back at four highly ranked areas on our list of the best cities to move to post-pandemic.
  • Net domestic migration from 2019 to 2020 for these metro areas was pretty similar to previous years.
  • Huntsville, Alabama, had a larger positive net domestic migration this year, continuing its growth.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Three months ago, Aaron and Christine Lager traded their 1,100-square-foot home outside San Francisco house for a 3,500-square-foot property in Huntsville, Alabama.

The aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin had offered Aaron a good, well-paying job, and Christine was enchanted by the city’s quaint downtown.

Huntsville is one of the winners of the pandemic migration boom. The metro area had a positive net domestic migration – the number of people moving into a metro area from elsewhere in the US minus people moving out to another part of the country – of 8,964 from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, according to the most recently available US Census Bureau data. This was higher than the 6,815 in the same period a year earlier.

We anticipated its success: In summer last year, as moving became a popular conversation topic, and people debated the best places to ride out lockdowns and work remotely, Insider decided to use available data to create a list of the best cities to move to after the pandemic. The metropolitan-area data, which was mainly from before the pandemic, covered nine metrics. For example, low unemployment rates, low cost of living, and high ability to work from home would likely lead to a higher place in the ranking. Huntsville came out among the top 10, in part for its high educational attainment and high share of jobs that could be done remotely.

Now that it has been over a year since we came up with our list, we were interested in seeing if people moved to the cities that made up some of the top spots.

As seen in the chart below, people did move to Huntsville and Cheyenne, Wyoming, which we anticipated. But two other cities we thought would do well – Rochester, New York, and Champaign, Illinois – lost residents.

But gains and losses for these metro areas aren’t new.

A closer look at data from the Census Bureau over the past few years showed a lot of the cities mostly experienced domestic migration that followed trends that had gone on for years. This fits in with other findings that the pandemic accelerated moves that were already in the works, like Americans moving from high-tax to low-tax states and leaving large and expensive metro areas for suburbs and secondary cities.

Huntsville, which came in ninth in our ranking, is a prime example. It had positive net domestic migration every year, according to data from the past decade. Meanwhile, Rochester, which ranked 15th in our ranking, experienced the opposite. From 2010 to 2020, its metro area recorded negative net domestic migration every year. We thought that COVID-19 might result in some new areas experiencing an influx of residents given the flexibility for people to work remotely, but the destinations of choice actually didn’t change that much.

To be sure, the census estimates don’t cover the full year of 2020 and aren’t the official decennial count. Others, like The New York Times and Bloomberg, have used US Postal Service change-of-address data to figure out where people moved during the pandemic.

One thing’s for certain: We were right that the pandemic offered a huge opportunity for some people to rethink where to live. Just because one in five (according to one Pew estimate) people moved during the pandemic or knows someone who did doesn’t mean they dramatically changed where they moved. And we didn’t take into account previous moving patterns to and from metro areas when coming up with our own guesses for relocators’ destinations of choice.

Below are our deep dives into four locations from our best-city list: two with positive net domestic migration and two with negative net domestic migration during part of the pandemic.

Huntsville, Alabama

Postcard of Huntsville, Alabama taped on orange paper, with truck and house stickers

Huntsville was perhaps our best call, ranking ninth on our best-city list. The census statistics show that, over time, more people have moved there from other parts of the US than moved out. Outside the government-data release, an annual study from United Van Lines National Movers found Huntsville was the fourth most popular city to move to in 2020.

Why? Thousands of tech workers are flocking to Huntsville — Alabama’s unsung “rocket city” — for good jobs and Southern hospitality. The longtime NASA hub is luring Facebook, Boeing, Blue Origin, and other major employers. Plus, new arrivals from Silicon Valley find their money goes much further.

Subscribe to read more about the tech-worker boom in Huntsville, a hidden gem and unsung hot spot.

Cheyenne, Wyoming

Postcard of Cheyenne, Wyoming taped on orange paper, with truck and house stickers

Cheyenne ranked 12th on our list of cities to move to after the pandemic, in part because of its shorter weekly commute and lower population density. Indeed, Wyoming’s rugged capital saw an influx of residents during the pandemic that mirrored five years of steady arrivals. 

Conservative politics and wide, open spaces have drawn herds of relocators. Take Microsoft employee Troy Nowak, a California native who wanted to move his family to a place with outdoor activities, low crime, and no traffic. He chose Cheyenne.

Subscribe to read more about Cheyenne and its pandemic-fueled boom. Westward ho!

Rochester, New York

Postcard of Rochester, NY taped on orange paper, with truck and house stickers

Unlike Huntsville and Cheyenne, more people left the upstate city of Rochester for elsewhere in the US — in line with years of population decline that preceded the pandemic. So while Rochester ranked 15th on our list of places to move after the pandemic — in part for its per-pupil spending on education and share of jobs that could be done from home — it didn’t actually gain residents last year.

Betty Battaglia, a local broker, was shocked to hear that “American’s first boomtown” — a five-hour drive northwest of Manhattan and sandwiched between Syracuse and Buffalo — lost residents. She described a red-hot housing market with dozens of prospective buyers placing competing offers on each listing and pushing prices up. 

It turns out that while people did leave Rochester in 2020 — some to head south or to other low-tax, warm-weather states, in a continuation of migration trends of the past decade — many moved to upgrade their quality of life locally. There was enough demand for homeownership from locals, in fact, that the population loss barely registered.

Read more about the scene in Rochester, where homes are selling for $100,000 over ask.

Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

Postcard of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois taped on orange paper, with truck and house stickers

As Americans flee urban hubs for larger homes and a lower cost of living during the coronavirus pandemic, the Champaign-Urbana metro area seems like the perfect landing pad. It’s in central Illinois amid corn fields, about 135 miles south of Chicago and 125 miles west of Indianapolis — within a two-hour drive of either city. It has a rural but lively college-town feel thanks to the state’s flagship public university, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Champaign-Urbana placed third in our ranking, in part because of its shorter weekly commute and higher educational attainment. But it also lost residents during the pandemic.

Even as people leave Champaign in droves, the local real-estate market remains emblematic of the national frenzied housing market marked by all-cash offers, sight-unseen purchases, and creative buyer tactics. There are still enough people who want to buy homes in the college town, and inventory is so limited in Champaign and nationwide that demand has driven prices up anyway.

Read more about Champaign, which is bustling despite losing residents. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

TikTok has created viral dances and instant stars, but it’s also helping small businesses cash in. Here’s how 4 of them successfully leveraged the unique algorithm.

Four iPhones displaying products from small businesses that grew on TikTok: Fabulyss Boutique, Nectar, Woof Palace, and Nice Shirt. Thanks!
  • TikTok rose to popularity during the pandemic, launching influencers and brands into the spotlight.
  • It also allowed small businesses to grow their brand at an unprecedented pace with viral videos.
  • Insider spoke with four businesses about the benefits, and drawbacks, of unexpected viral fame.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When Jeremy Kim and John Dalsey started their hard-seltzer company, Nectar, late last year, they went door to door to 200 stores in Los Angeles looking for someone to carry their product. “We would go to these stores, drop off samples, and then, you know, I’d be excited because we’re getting all this positive feedback from our friends and family and their friends – these store owners are probably going to have the same reaction,” Kim told Insider. “Nobody would give us a call back.”

Kim said the constant rejection made him and his partner nervous that they had missed their window of opportunity by selling the summer beverage in late fall. That’s when they decided to hop on TikTok, which was surging in popularity amid the pandemic.

“First I put together a video, basically just chronicling our journey of how we got our first box and just to see whether or not anybody would be interested in the drink,” Kim said, noting that he added a phone number that viewers could text to show interest.

“I posted the video in early November and it did OK, got like 30,000 views, and we’re, like, ‘Right, you know, a hundred more of these videos and we’ll be the biggest brand ever.'”

The video showed Nectar in production – the cans of hard seltzer being filled, sealed, and boxed – superimposed with captions detailing the time it took to bring the product to fruition. Kim said they put a lot of effort into their videos regardless of whether they go viral: “Shooters keep shooting.”

@nectarhardseltzer

reposting cuz someone keeps trying to report us…we will not fold! LA, secret drop coming!! 310-388-6729 #losangeles

♬ original sound – Nectar Hard Seltzer

A few weeks later, on Black Friday, Kim said that he got a notification that TikTok took down their biggest video for breaking community guidelines. A spokesperson for TikTok told Insider that Nectar’s video was flagged by the algorithm for sharing personally identifiable information by adding the phone number in the caption.

“I quickly reposted it, and I texted everybody in our group chat, ‘Dude, they took down our biggest video,”‘ he said, adding he was “freaked out” by the move.

Much to his surprise, the views on the reposted video grew tenfold. Three days later, Kim said the video had more than 300,000 views, and “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people across the entire United States” texted the phone number to express interest. As of Thursday, the video had 415,000 views.

Nectar Hard Seltzer

The duo took the videos and hundreds of phone numbers to two mom-and-pop liquor stores in Los Angeles. They put 150 boxes on the shelves at each location and sent out a text to those who texted the phone number from their viral video to let them know that the seltzer was available for the first time to customers.

When they arrived at the stores the next morning, Kim said it was “pandemonium,” and Nectar sold out in under an hour. “I will always remember this day for the rest of my life,” he said. Since then, the popularity has only grown, with other viral videos gaining 500,000 views each. The company’s TikTok had 39,000 followers in seven months.

@nectarhardseltzer

You made this happen!! Grateful to have found this special community 🙌 We are coming to your city soon ##nectarhardseltzer ##smallbusiness ##hardseltzer

♬ original sound – Nectar Hard Seltzer

Nectar ended up hosting more pop-up events and gaining more traction on TikTok before eventually distributing their product with alcohol retailer BevMo and delivery startup GoPuff, which acquired BevMo in November of last year.

The company also made it known to their followers that they would take their product to any city that gets 300 people to text the company phone number and recently sold more than 300 boxes of Nectar in Seattle.

“Seven months ago, we had zero customers and followers,” Kim said. “Today we are in 100 stores self-distributed across California. We ship direct across the entire state of New York. We did this with no distributor, no publicist, no marketing budget.”

Nectar wasn’t the only small business that leveraged the growing popularity of Tiktok and the platform’s algorithm to launch their success. The popular video-based app has joined the ranks of other social-media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to help businesses build their brand and get their name out there.

Digital marketing isn’t new, but TikTok’s been a game-changer for small businesses

Analiese Ross, the CEO and cofounder of AMR Digital Marketing, said using social media as a marketing tool “can really level the playing field for all the businesses, specifically all different sizes and income levels.”

“You see like the big players on there – Nike, Coca-Cola – and then you see small businesses that have a fraction of the budget, but are actually doing way better on social,” Ross said. “And that’s like one of the very, I think, unique things about [digital marketing]. That really doesn’t happen in any other area of marketing.”

But what sets TikTok apart from social platforms like Instagram and Facebook, however, is the video app’s unique ability to make videos go viral. Ross said the biggest draw to TikTok are the fluctuations in video traffic, even if you have a smaller base of followers.

“You’re not going to see those big fluctuations on Instagram where, like, one post gets a million views and the other gets 200,” she said. “That ability to go super-viral and not have it be dependent on your follower count is very unique to TikTok, and it provides, I think, a huge opportunity for a small business who doesn’t have a ton of followers, who doesn’t have all those resources.”

Small businesses can use TikTok’s interest-based algorithm to get their product in front of the right demographic, Ross said. Whether it is viewers who are looking to buy a specific item or are simply coming across merchandise representing their existing obsessions, the algorithm identifies the viewers’ interests and puts specific videos into their news feed, known as a “For You Page.”

“I mean, you can have 200 followers on TikTok and have a video go viral, and it gets a million views and it completely changes everything for you,” Ross added.

TikTok

“It’s really all about showing people what they want to see,” she said. “So Instagram is all about connecting you with your friends, with people that you know, and you have to be able to find those people and follow them … TikTok is just about what you like.”

That facet of the TikTok algorithm lent itself to the business concept behind Nice Shirt. Thanks!, a custom-clothing company, and helped build its following.

Hayden Rankin and Mason Manning brainstormed the idea of their comedic apparel company in October of last year because the pair “wanted to be able to monetize art and comedy.” Customers send in a prompt of what they want on their shirt, and artists contracted with the company design the shirt without the customers’ knowledge of what it could be.

“We had a few ideas, like, ‘Oh, maybe the customer could create their idea,’ or ‘Oh, maybe we could design something,’ and then, sure enough, it just came to this idea,” Rankin said. “Our interpretation is going to be put down on what the customer wants onto a shirt, and we’re going to keep it as a surprise until the customer gets it.”

“This is a market that we don’t really think exists quite yet,” he added.

Prompts from customers could range anywhere from designs featuring their favorite musicians and pop-culture fandom to suggestions such as “I like hedgehogs, but I also have borderline personality disorder.”

Their business concept lends itself to social media: Their product is the result of a conversation with consumers. While they do have 27,000 followers on Instagram – where some customers can post their order on their Story – and an even smaller audience on Twitter, Rankin said their TikTok account, which has 230,000 followers, reaches the most people, especially with the potential of their customers’ videos going viral alongside their own.

The next logical step after giving customers a surprise design on a T-shirt was getting the reaction, which customers are asked to post on TikTok with the hashtag #niceshirtthanks. The hashtag has nearly 50 million views.

Rankin said they noticed their growing popularity early, prompting them to caps the number of shirts they could sell in one day. “Because of the nature of the business – each shirt is individualized – we can’t mass-produce a ton of one design,” he said. “We found that we’re going to have to limit the number of orders because we don’t know how many we can produce quite yet.”

He added that as the company grows, the pair hopes to increase the number of allowed sales and continue working full time on expanding the brand and the appeal of comedic apparel.

Going viral on TikTok persuaded some small business owners to turn their side gig into a full-time venture

Like Nice Shirt. Thanks!, TikTok fame convinced another small-business owner to invest in their business full time. Alyssa Brianna started her business, Fabulyss, last July selling self-defense key chains and jewelry. Brianna, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, said she made herself a key chain after she was harassed on campus and later decided to sell self-defense products.

Brianna said she initially intended on casually running the business on the side until graduation, and she said she was only advertising products on Instagram, which mainly friends and family followed. About a month into creating Fabulyss, she decided to make TikTok videos for fun.

“And then one day, one of my TikTok videos blew up, got millions of views,” Brianna, who has 1.3 million followers on TikTok, said. “And ever since then, I’ve been selling out consistently since November because of TikTok.”

Brianna has since expanded her business to an office space in February and has two family members working for her. She said she hopes to get a warehouse for her products within the next year and do pop-up shops to meet her customers in person – a vision that would not have been made possible if she had not gone viral on TikTok.

“Because of, like, the algorithm, it changed my entire future. I actually didn’t want this as a full-time thing,” Brianna said. “I thought once I graduate, I’ll just stop it, but it showed me that I can just be my own boss and do what I want.”

She added: “So if it wasn’t for TikTok, I would just be working a regular 9-to-5 job like everybody else does, but instead I get to do what I want and on my own time.”

Going viral can put big pressure on a small business

Having their businesses go viral can be a welcome surprise for entrepreneurs looking to build their customer base, but it doesn’t come without drawbacks. For Clariz Marielle, who owns a custom pet-jewelry business, Woof Palace, millions of views generated a lot of sales, as well as a lot of pressure.

Marielle receives photos of her customers’ pets to turn into line-art drawings she designs herself. From there, the designs are engraved onto jewelry pendants to create personalized accessories for her customers, a process that takes a few weeks. Marielle posts videos of her design process on her business’ TikTok account, which has nearly 412,000 followers.

In one of her first viral videos, which has 9 million views, she talked about a customer stealing from her business by complaining about the necklace and refusing to return the product after Marielle granted her a refund.

@woofpalace

First time a got scammed 🥺 like for part two!! I got more scammer stories! I can’t believe ppl do this #scam #scammer #smallbusiness #fraud

♬ Sad Piano – Astafyev Matvey

“It generated a lot of sales that I couldn’t really handle,” Marielle said. “I mean, I didn’t think about stopping my store. So I just took all of the orders, thinking that I could draw everything in one week and then ship them out the next week, but that wasn’t humanly possible.”

Though Marielle scrambled to keep up with the new demand as a result of her viral videos, she said her customers started to complain and send angry messages, and some even posted publicly accusing her of scamming them.

@woofpalace

As a small business owner you have to face your mistakes and admit that it’s 100% your fault. And do better next time! 🌷💖 ##smallbusiness ##scam

♬ ghost town voice memo (full version out now) – chloe george

Ali Mirza, a digital-marketing strategist and founder of #iSocialYou, said he has seen small-business owners and entrepreneurs getting overwhelmed by a lot of sudden attention from social media. Mirza told Insider that businesses can safeguard themselves from those situations by setting the right expectation and capturing customers’ contact information to notify them of a restock if they order when inventory is sold out.

He also advised owners and entrepreneurs that find themselves in that situation to remember that social media is “just one piece of your whole business. It’s not the business.”

“My perspective is, we want to use social media to build our business – we don’t want to be used by social media,” Mirza said. “I want to use social media to bring traffic to me, but then I have other aspects of my business to really capture that traffic and use it to my benefit.”

Since going viral, Marielle said she brought on her friend to help with customer service and her uncle to help with the pet pendant engravings, and she said the positive reactions from her customers receiving such a personal product gives her “so much drive to wake up every day and do something for my small business.”

“Seeing the reactions of my customers made me feel so happy and content inside because, you know, I feel like I created that,” Marielle said. “I drew their dog, and seeing them really happy and just cherish the jewelry is really what motivated me to keep going and do it every day. And ever since I think I didn’t have a free day for like six months, and it was so much fun.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

We talked to 22 insiders with front row seats to Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP

Donald Trump against a red background with 16 Republican candidates for the 2016 United States presidential election.
Insider published the definitive oral history of Donald Trump’s rise to political power.

  • Insider interviewed 22 people with front-row seats to the 2016 GOP presidential primaries.
  • We collected colorful anecdotes and never-before-reported details about the historic campaign.
  • Combined, they tell the story of how Trump became the king of the GOP – a crown he still wears to this day.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Five years after the 2016 Republican presidential primary and national convention, the candidates and staffers are still coming to terms with how much has changed – and how much hasn’t – about Trump’s GOP.

That’s why Insider embarked over the past several months on an oral history project to document a truly bizarre time in American history, when the seam between politics and entertainment faded.

To jog our memories, we talked to 22 key insiders who were central to the 2016 presidential race about the unprecedented Trump primary campaign and how he was able to mount a successful hostile takeover over the GOP that still endures today.

Read more: The definitive oral history of how Trump took over the GOP, as told to us by Cruz, Rubio, and 20 more insiders

Our oral history traces Trump’s victory over 16 other brand-name Republicans from 2015 to 2016, including Jeb Bush and his monster $100 million war chest, rising-star senators like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and the pugnacious New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Some of the highlights you’ll remember, like Trump’s infamous escalator ride. Others you might not have never known: he almost took the elevator!- and after the Iowa Caucuses, aides had a come-to-Jesus meeting with him to convince him the election results should be accepted.

Ultimately, we discovered just how many times it seemed like the Trump campaign was on the verge of a catastrophic implosion – and how social media shaped our memories of the raucous primary process in ways that, looking back, didn’t always measure up to reality.

We also laid bare the snake-tangle of staff tensions and disagreements that came to be emblematic of the Apprentice-style governance Trump brought to his White House. Former campaign officials have very different memories of how the 13-month journey to the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland unfolded.

Check out the full Trump takeover oral history and our additional stories here:

  • A top former Trump aide acknowledged the 2016 campaign did pay actors to appear at his big 2015 presidential campaign announcement after denying it to Insider five years ago.
  • Trump team’s pre-debate prep included a ‘party’ with Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. His band still slapped Trump with a threat to sue later, though.
  • Melania Trump agreed with her husband that then-Sen. John McCain wasn’t a “war hero.”
  • A Bill Clinton staffer had to tell the ex-president about the infamous Trump-Rubio 2016 debate fight over penis size.
  • Trump aides told him over a McDonalds’ meal to stop bitching about losing the Iowa Caucus in 2016.
  • Key moments where Ted Cruz tried to steal the 2016 nomination away from Trump.
  • Trump’s future DOJ spokeswoman said the Republicans who lost to Trump in 2016 reminded her of the people who lost to Hitler.

To read the full Trump oral history story, click here.

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The Cost of Inequity: How and why inequity persists in the institutions that govern daily life in America

A receipt with the words "The Cost of Inequity" written on it on on a blue background.

Inequity, not to be confused with inequality, is the result of injustice and cultural exclusion. Cost of Inequity explores how and why inequity persists in the institutions that govern daily life in America while illustrating the real economic cost to society.

From education to the workplace, banks, healthcare and more, this series examines the historical causes, current policies and societal norms that perpetuate unfair, avoidable differences for marginalized groups.

Insider also conducted a survey of over 1100 American workers to examine the challenges businesses face in fulfilling DEI programs. Detailed results of the survey will be published in the coming weeks.

Read the original article on Business Insider