Fraud prevention experts Cifas and Action Fraud have warned small businesses to be on extra alert for fake invoices after figures revealed an alarming increase in scams in the first six months of the year.
Reports of fake invoice scams targeting businesses have rocketed with 749 businesses reporting falling victim to this type of scam to Action Fraud between January and June 2015 alone. In comparison there were 603 in the whole of 2014 and 739 in 2013.
Yet with more than 5 million SMEs in the UK and many crimes going unreported, Cifas and Action Fraud fear the real figure for 2015 is considerably higher*.
Fake invoice scams typically work by fraudsters pretending to be a supplier and contacting the business to say that the account details that an invoice needs to be paid to have changed. Innocently, an employee amends the account details only for the organisation to later find out that they have been sending money to a fraudster rather than a genuine supplier. The more detail a fraudster has about an organisation, the easier it is to pose as a supplier and make the scam convincing. In some reported cases, fraudsters have been helped by employees within the organisation feeding information about genuine suppliers.
The warning from Cifas and Action Fraud comes in the height of summer, a time when fraudsters have been known to take advantage of experienced staff going on holiday, leaving less experienced or temporary replacements who may be less likely to spot the scam.
Although the scam could work on businesses of any size, smaller businesses are most at risk and may find it harder to recover from losing large amounts of money. Surrey police recently revealed they are investigating two allegations where businesses appear to have been conned out of around £1 million.
Simon Dukes, Chief Executive, Cifas said:
“Fraudsters often take advantage of organisations with less resources and less staff leaving small businesses more vulnerable to fraud. We know greater awareness is a powerful tool in fraud prevention and we urge small businesses to stay alert and to ensure their employees are aware of invoice fraud too.”
Head of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith said:
“It is important that employees are made aware of invoice scams and are ready to recognise the signs of fraud. Incidents of invoice fraud are under reported and therefore it is difficult to know the true scale of this fraud type, however what we do know, is that this type of fraud prevails across all types of business and no one type of industry is immune. Those organisations that are worried they may fallen victim to fraudsters should always report to Action Fraud”.
Tips for businesses to protect against invoice scams:
Ensure all staff, not just finance teams, know about this fraud - especially those covering roles during the holidays.
Never respond to the contact details provided by someone requesting changes to financial details. Instead, use established email and telephone contacts to check that any request has come from the genuine supplier.
Always review invoices to check for inconsistencies/errors, such as a misspelt company name.
Where possible establish at least two specific points of contact with suppliers so that all invoice changes can be confirmed with both contacts.
Contact suppliers for payment of larger invoices in advance of making payment to ensure that payment is made to the correct bank account.
Consider what information is publicly available about your business and whether it needs to be public.
Never leave invoices unattended in the office or on a desk.
Ensure your computer systems are secure and that antivirus software is up to date.
*Business Statistics Briefing Paper, House of Commons Library, May 2015
Visit www.cifas.org.uk for more information.
You can report fraud and cyber crime to Action Fraud online at www.actionfraud.police.uk