Scams targeting businesses

Here we describe a number of scams which typically target businesses and we offer advice about how to avoid these scams and what you can do if you have been a victim of this type of scam.

Here are some of the scams against businesses we've encountered – and how to avoid them.

Tips on avoiding scams for businesses

  • Don’t rush into an agreement with anyone.
  • Fraudulent invoices for goods and services are widespread. Often they will be modelled on those you regularly pay. Double check whether the bank and payee details have been altered.
  • Brief your staff - scammers will often target junior staff to get them to make payments over the phone or approve invoices for non-existent goods and services. We advise you to have robust approval processes for payments.
  • Make some basic internet checks on businesses you don't know. Just typing their name into a search engine may bring up blogs and other warning information.
  • Check Companies House - how long have they been trading, have they submitted accounts, have they regularly changed name?
  • If the business has a website, check WHOIS to see who has registered the website and from where.
  • Check the Action Fraud website. They have an A-Z list of frauds.
  • Register with the Mailing Preference Service to cut down on unwanted direct mail that is addressed to you: You can also phone 0207 291 3310.
  • Register with the Telephone Preference Service to cut down on unwanted phone calls, texts and SMS messages. You can also call 0345 070 0707.

Here are examples of frequently-used business scams.

Publishing and advertising

The simplest common scam is for a rogue company to issue a bogus invoice, often for well-known publications.

Another common scam relates to advertising in charitable publications. These scams usually start with a call selling advertising space in a publication for a seemingly good cause. Sometimes the caller will say that a business has placed an order previously, or even that someone else in the business has agreed to take out the advertising space. The fraudsters may also send you invoices, whether or not the you've agreed to take out the advertising space. They may follow up the invoices with threats of legal action.

Data protection registration notices

Letters originating mainly from the north of England have been circulating, asking for £95 plus VAT to provide data protection registration for your business. The letters look official and warns of enforcement action for non-compliance. The Information Commissioner’s office says the current registration fee for this service is £35 and no VAT is payable. For more information and to see a warning list of scam letters, visit the Information Commissioner’s website.

Business rates

Bogus business rate consultants may claim that your non-domestic rates can be reduced for a fee but you may find the rate reduction never materialises. Whilst professional advisers can be helpful, you should check thoroughly who you are hiring. Get advice from your local Valuation Office.

Computer viruses

There is a common scam where you receive an unsolicited call or email from someone purporting to be from a business linked to Microsoft. They say they are aware that there is a virus in your computer system. The firm will offer a debugging service for a fee. These scammers frequently use mail forwarding addresses in the UK but are really based outside Europe. This means it is difficult to pursue them should things go wrong. Your computer supplier may be able to help and advise on anti-virus software.

Advanced fee and loan scams

People looking for finance will often use websites to find them a loan. Some of these websites unscrupulously pass on names and phone numbers to rogues who will telephone you offering a loan for an advanced fee. Be wary if this happens to you, especially if they ask for the fee to be paid via Western Union or Ukash.

If this happens to you, stop dealing with the business straight away. If you are a business, report what has happened to Action Fraud. If you are a consumer, contact Citizens Advice or call them on 03454 040 506.

If you are aware of anyone who has a personal debt with an unlicensed trader or loan shark, you can report this to the Illegal Money Lending Team on their confidential number - 0300 555 2222.

Office supplies and equipment leases

Scammers may call and mislead an employee into thinking that an order for office supplies has already been placed and that the call is to chase up a signature for the order form. You are then sent and invoiced for unwanted, and often overpriced, office supplies.

There are complex equipment lease scams to be aware of. A seemingly-legitimate supplier may say they will make monthly payments to a lease company for printers or other office equipment. This may be done for a year or so, but then the supplier stops paying and the lease company comes to you for payment.

It is then that you find the equipment was overpriced when the lease was taken out, and that you're tied into an expensive agreement for a number of years. You rarely get something for nothing, so be aware and get competitive quotes for any pricey goods or services.

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