We hear a lot these days about businesses being targeted by fraudsters. Phone calls or emails from scammers purporting to be someone they are not, in order to extract money from unwitting businesses are getting more and more common. There have been instances where communications are received that appear to be from a known and trusted email address, and recently even a case of a scammer calling up on the phone representing themselves as a debt collection agency demanding payment.
A lot of these scams rely on gaining just enough information to sound plausible, luring the business owner or employee into the illusion the person contacting them is a legitimate source… “How else would they know this information?!”
After convincing the target of their false credentials, the scammer will usually make a demand for payment to be made. This is sometimes a simple transfer of funds to an unknown bank account, often the case when the scammer is pretending to be someone with authority within the target business. We have also heard of instances when the scammer contacted the business by phone, presenting themselves as bailiffs with a court order to collect on a personal debt relating to one of the business owners and threatening legal action unless immediate payment was made. Often, scam demands are based around pressure situations like bailiffs, late at night or near the weekend, or the situation has some kind of emotional pull.
These sort of scams can really damage businesses, as a successful scam ends up with someone within the business actually instructing the bank payment. A number of banks will then on this basis refuse to refund the lost monies, due to the fact that a fraud or security breach on the bank itself did not actually occur.
Be aware of what information is publicly available about your business
A key bit of advice we can offer around these sorts of scams is to be aware of what information is publicly available about companies these days. Anyone with access to the internet can find the Registrar of Companies website: https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/
A quick search of this site will show that there is a lot of information about companies, their officers and even around loans and registered charges, all publicly available on Companies House. The information contained here, coupled with anything else that can be dug up about a company from other public records, such as in the press, past trading history, or information available from the company itself, can all be can be used to give the illusion of in depth professional knowledge or even convince employees that a superior is simply instructing a payment to a supplier or themselves personally.
Care should always be taken to verify the source of who is asking for money to be paid or transferred anywhere when dealing with unusual phone calls or emails. In this digital age, scammers have so many ways of targeting both individuals and businesses and the growing range of information on the internet can be used to convey a deep knowledge and understanding of otherwise private businesses.
A few key steps and considerations to protect yourself and your business:
- A professional, legitimate debt collector will usually give written notice in advance of a pending debt owing. A phone call out of the blue demanding payment that second should always raise an eyebrow.
- Advances in technology mean that scammers can now appear to be emailing requests for payments from internal email addresses the target knows and trusts! Something as simple as a quick phone call to physically speak to a manager requesting any sort of unusual payment, can help verify the legitimacy of such emails.
Clear guidance to employees on internal control systems and procedures for making payments to staff, suppliers or even to the business owners themselves will give a clear indication of how these sorts of payment requests will appear when they are legitimate. This will make it easier to spot anything unusual and keep the business from falling victim to these sorts of scams.
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