Scammers have stepped up attempts to defraud small businesses in recent months as many firms are missing senior staff during the holiday season, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (Isme) has warned.
The association has reported an increased number of calls in the last three months from companies that are being “inundated” with pseudo-requests, spurious invoices and sham deliveries, both through the post and over the internet.
It estimated that these activities are costing businesses millions and advised SMEs to put in place policies to combat them. Many of the scams involve fake email addresses and websites. International business directory scams are “especially prominent”.
Isme chief executive Mark Fielding said businesses should be wary of fraudsters seeking to capitalise on the absence of senior management during the summer months.
“These scams are particularly prevalent during the holiday periods as fraudsters are aware that, in many cases, senior management may be out of the office, leaving more junior staff to take decisions,” he said.
“This can result in a staff member signing for something that they should not be signing, resulting in the company being tied to a contract. Most of these scams concern invoices for subscriptions for online business directories.”
To combat this, Isme suggested nominating one or two senior staff to sign all documentation being sent to third parties and ensuring all signatories within the company understood procedures for signing documents.
Mr Fielding said the latest attempted fraud involved companies receiving bogus internet correspondence from both the Revenue Commissioners and the Irish Tax Institute requesting certain financial information to process tax rebates.
“Fraudsters are becoming particularly sophisticated and are devising new and intricate methods to rip off unsuspecting companies,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is no easy way to stamp out this practice.
“The only protection for business owners is extreme caution and continuous staff training. The whole team needs to be vigilant and aware of the many threats posed to the business. Falling prey to a scam attempt is not inevitable for businesses.”
Isme outlined a number of measures that can be taken to protect businesses. All invoices, hard copy or e-mail, should be checked carefully. especially those coming from abroad or from an unknown supplier.
If in doubt about the validity of an invoice, call the supplier company for further details. Check documents for small print and read it. Furthermore, businesses should be aware that neither banks nor the Revenue Commissioners seek company information by email.