Businesses join forces to combat COVID-19 scams
Remote working increasing business exposure to fraud
More than 100 organisations are spearheading a new initiative to combat fraud against businesses as more companies and employees adjust to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing their exposure to sophisticated business scams.
NatWest, Places for People and the Co-operative Bank are among the first companies to join Businesses Against Scams, a cross-industry initiative led by National Trading Standards that provides free tools for businesses to upskill and train their workforce to help identify and prevent scams.
Security risks include criminals targeting employees working from home who are isolated from colleagues. Scams include criminals impersonating government officials or a senior member of the business to put pressure on employees to give out sensitive information or make payments.
Remote working also presents new cyber security challenges, with security reliant on the resilience of home Wi-Fi routers and more employees familiarise themselves with new software and devices.
The Businesses Against Scams initiative provides free online training modules, including examples of prominent scams and how to avoid falling victim.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said:
“Scams not only deceive legitimate businesses, they risk undermining the UK's economic recovery. As more employees work from home, we’re urging businesses to protect themselves, their employees and their customers to help prevent significant financial losses or data protection breaches.”
The types of scams directly targeting businesses include tax refund fraud, which can lead to significant financial losses for businesses. Scams targeting customers also undermine businesses, as criminals often impersonate businesses to defraud their customer base, causing reputational damage and potential loss of business. The emotional and mental impact on employees who have fallen victim to a scam can also be devastating and long-lasting.
Louise Baxter, Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, said:
“We’ve launched Businesses Against Scams as a free tool for organisations to help safeguard their business and protect their workforce and customers. More than 100 businesses have already signed up to the free training, which is empowering businesses and employees – who are all adapting to new working environments – to take a stand against scams by equipping them with advice and knowledge on how to identify and prevent a scam.”
The four most common scams to target businesses include:
Government grant/tax refund scams – A business is contacted by phone, email or post by government imposters suggesting the business might qualify for a special COVID-19 government grant or a tax refund. Variations on the scheme involve contacts through text messages, social media posts and phone messages. Businesses should be cautious about unexpected urgent communications offering financial assistance. Check that the information is genuine by using official government websites.
Invoice/mandate scams – A business may be contacted out of the blue by someone claiming to be from a regular supplier. They state that their bank account details have changed and will ask you to change the payment details.
Never rush a payment. Use contact details that you already hold or that have been obtained independently rather than any included in the request. Do not call the number in the request or reply with your email details as this may be fraudulent.
CEO scams - A sophisticated scam that plays on the authority of company directors and senior managers. An employee receives a phone call or email from someone claiming to be a senior member of staff – they ask for an urgent payment to a new account and instil a sense of panic. Scammers may even hack a staff email account or use spoofing software to appear genuine.
Be cautious about unexpected urgent requests for payment and always check the request directly if possible.
Tech support scams – With more people working remotely and IT systems under pressure, criminals may impersonate well-known companies and offer to repair devices. Criminals are trying to gain computer access or get hold of passwords and login details. Once they have access, criminals can search the hard drive for valuable information. Always check that the bank or payment website you’re using is secure – a small padlock beside the web address will confirm you’re using a secure site.
Always be suspicious of cold callers. Genuine companies would never call out of the blue and ask for financial information.
Allison Simon, Head of Fraud, Commercial Banking, NatWest Group said:
“During this uncertain period, fraudsters are using the anxiety and stress caused by the crisis to try and target individuals and businesses with seemingly legitimate and convincing requests. It’s more important than ever that our customers are aware and alert to this increased threat, and its why we’re pleased to be a founding member of Businesses Against Scams, in partnership with National Trading Standards.
We’d encourage all businesses to remember three basic tips to keep themselves safe. Firstly, never rely on just an email to validate payment – contact the sender on a trusted number. Second, NatWest will never telephone you asking you transfer money to a new or safe account. And finally, if you receive a request from a supplier to update bank account details, always call back using a trusted contact number to check it’s genuine.”
Small Business Minister Paul Scully said:
“Scams are despicable at any time, but particularly so if they seek to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As businesses adopt new working practices in response to the outbreak, it is important they stay vigilant against scams.
“I urge business leaders to sign up to the excellent Businesses Against Scams initiative and make use of free training to help protect their employees, customers and businesses from being taken advantage of during this difficult period and beyond.”
If a business believes they have been the victim of a scam they must contact their bank immediately. Please report any suspicious communication to Action Fraud.
Businesses Against Scams is a new part of the successful Friends Against Scams initiative, run by National Trading Standards to provide free online training to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/
Notes to Editors
About National Trading Standards
National Trading Standards delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement. Its Board is made up of senior and experienced heads of local government trading standards from around England and Wales with an independent Chair. Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues and organised criminality and by providing a “safety net” to protect food supplies by ensuring the animal feed chain is safe.
About Businesses Against Scams
Businesses Against Scams is part of the National Trading Standards Scams Team’s successful national campaign Friends Against Scams. Business Against Scams aims to highlight business scams to organisations and employees who have found themselves operating in a completely different working environment in recent weeks. It equips employees how to spot these scams, how to protect themselves and their business and how to report them through free online training modules.
Advice and guidance on how to protect yourself and your business from fraud and cyber crime is available via gov.uk/coronavirus-fraud-and-cyber-crime. This includes signposts to Action Fraud, Cyber Aware, The National Cyber Security Centre, Citizens Advice, Scamsmart, Friends Against Scams and HMRC advice.
Reporting to Action Fraud can be done online at https://www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040. If you live in Scotland, please report directly to Police Scotland by calling 101. For up-to-date information on COVID-19 fraud please follow Action Fraud on Twitter.
Forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to email@example.com and texts to 60599. Check HMRC-related phishing, or bogus, emails or text messages against examples published on GOV.UK.