Two thirds of SMES are under attack from international fraudsters

ISME, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, has issued a warning to all businesses to be extremely vigilant, particularly during the holiday period, as international fraudsters are targeting the Irish enterprise community.

The Association outlined the many different types of scams, including false advance fee contracts, entries into business directories, email phishing, bogus bank account verification and confirmation of “winnings” in international lotteries as being among the favourite scams perpetrated.

ISME Chief Executive, Mark Fielding said that the ISME Help-line has had a worrying increase in queries about unsolicited directories’ and guides’ entries in so-called international business publications.

“The incidence of scams against business is rising, with an increasing number of companies falling victim to fraudsters who are becoming particularly sophisticated, and are devising new and intricate methods to rip-off unsuspecting companies. Small businesses are already under huge pressure in the current financial climate and can ill-afford to fall victim to these scams, which could send some over the edge”

“The false notifications of massive Lotto wins and African millions are well known and easily dealt with. However in recent times there has been an increase in sophisticated fraud using bogus bank information and Revenue notifications. The most important thing to remember is that your bank and the Revenue will never ask for this type of detail via email. “

Fielding also warned businesses to be particularly wary of any unsolicited correspondence received in relation to non-existent professional guides and Internet directories. “These are proving to be particularly problematic and in the last couple of weeks numerous companies have received invoices and “update only” requests from companies, based across Europe. This information is sought ostensibly to update a directory and states that updating is ‘free of charge’ but eventually leads to a request for payment, once returned to the directory company.” he said.

“The incidences of scams increases during the holiday season as fraudsters are aware that senior management may be out of the office, leaving more junior staff to take decisions. This can, in some circumstances, lead to inexperienced staff signing for something which, on the face of it, looks innocuous but which, in the long term, can lead to payment requests being made.”

To deal with fake invoices and requests the Association recommends the following:

1. All invoices should be checked carefully - especially those coming from abroad or unknown suppliers.

2. If in doubt about the validity of an invoice, call the supplier company for further details. All reputable firms will be happy to share this information.

3. Check the document for small print and read it.

4. Nominate one or two senior staff who must sign all documentation being sent to third parties in relation to directories and the like.

5. Ensure that all signatories within the company are fully briefed.

6. Ensure that all staff understand procedures for signing off on information leaving the establishment.

7. Never respond to an internet request for information from a bank - DELETE is the only action that should be taken.

8. Ensure that your business has an appropriate E-mail and Internet Policy for all staff. (Available from ISME )

9. ISME also recommends that any business being harassed by bogus “legal” demands for payment for Directory entries to contact the ISME Helpline on 01 6622755 for the appropriate response.

“The extent, frequency and sophistication of business scams is increasing annually, which have the potential to cost SMEs thousands of euro, as well as the time lost attempting to rectify the problem. 'When in doubt don't pay out' should be the motto, particularly for all suspicious invoices,” concluded Fielding.

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