Business Scams

BEWARE OF THE SCAMS

I had to put this chapter in first because I constantly hear about “scams” even from big businesses that have been caught out. Everyone wants your money, by hook or by crook. Sadly there are perfectly legitimate company’s that create on-going charges within their tariffs that you are not even aware of unless you read the small print, you find out when it’s too late.

There are fundamentally two types of scams, those that are operated by big business and those that are generally fraudulent.

Lets talk about the ones operated by big business : a key point here is that if you don’t ask the right question, you won’t get the right answer, so here are a few pointers so that you now know, the list is not exhaustive, but gives an overview about the operations of some businesses.

Utilities :
It’s shameful that the power businesses sell electricity and gas whereby it is almost impossible to compare from one company to another. It’s shameful that when the price of wholesale power increases to the producers, within days the price goes up and when the opposite happens the price takes 6 months to reduce.
Signing up to these companies is never easy and especially look out for when your contract expires, if you don’t renew then your bill will almost double. Watch out for the length of time the power companies want you to sign up for because nowadays the price is fixed and not variable. Something else you need to know, the bulk of the power companies are not British, so we are beholden to foreign companies and with different utility policies to ours. Our government should never have allowed this, I don’t care about free market economies because no other European country allows this to happen, that’s why we are in the mess in the first place.

Communications :
If I had a £1,000,000 to blow into the wind I would bring BT to task. I have written an extensive article on my blog about this excuse of a company. To be fair when everything works with BT, it works well and obviously manages a very robust operating system, but boy, when things go wrong, they go wrong!
But it’s their sales teams that should be looked into by the Office of Fair Trading. For example I was told if I took on their new infinity broadband service I would save money, but if you don’t ask the right question you don’t get the right answer. Because the salesperson said in the next breath how would I like my Microsoft 365 software delivered. I said I didn’t order it, they said it was included in the package I just agreed to, I said I didn’t want it and the monthly rent went down from £37.50 to £32.00 that’s a £5.50 per month saving. The Microsoft package is therefore £66 for one user, actually Microsoft charge £85 per year for 5 users for the same software. It’s a racket.
Watch out for switchboard scams, someone will phone up and say that for free, they will supply you with a new switchboard with all sorts of nobs and whistles. Read the small print because your normal phone bill will double. We got caught by BT because we thought we were leasing our kit over 5 years, only to discover that we never leased, but rented the kit. Worse still if we changed part of out contract 2 years ago we would have saved over £2k a year in bills. It just never ends with this company and we can’t even access our billing, so we have no idea what’s going on.
Bastards, I don’t know how the CEO of this company sleep at night.
Mobile phone company’s will sign you up for a 12 month contract for example, but when you want to leave you might, after the 12 months and not before, need to give another 3 months notice!
I’m sure all the others are like this.

Fuel cards :
And you thought BT was a racket, this is worse. Headline ads stating that you subscribe to a fuel card and get at least 5p of a litre. Then after a few months the headline price increases and you end up paying 5p more a litre. With one of our fuel cards we questioned this and now they say the price of fuel is based on our credit rating. Watch these bastards like a hawk and keep their sales blurb because if they state something that then becomes different then take them to the Office of Fair trading, they won’t like that. The companies we use are and are all scams.

Waste management :
Sign up to these people you need to know what they are charging you for and what exactly are their terms and conditions. Usual they want a year, then if you don’t inform them when the year is up, the contract is rolled over another year. Watch out for spurious charges, usually to do with the legal requirement of “waste notes”. They will charge you about £75 for them, you can do it yourself for £18.

Photocopy and Office Supply Scams –
Some scammers prey on small business hoping they won’t notice a bill for office supplies or toner which the company never ordered. Every year the office of fair trading receives thousands of complaints from businesses that were deceived by office supply companies and billed for products they didn’t want. Make sure the bookkeeper knows what has been ordered and by whom so these types of scams don’t affect the company’s bottom line. Although I haven’t seen this scam for years, the variant is you are invoiced for very expensive, but low value items, you settle the account and they are actually delivered. But of course it’s a racket.
But there is another scam to watch out for and that’s the supply of photocopiers.
Usually sign up for a 3 year deal and everything is fine until the contract comes to an end. Then you receive an invoice for “parts not used”. And when you read your contract, low and behold there is a clause in the contract that says if you don’t use a certain amount of parts you will be charged for it. Believe me, charities and many businesses have been caught out. Even a County Council was caught out and billed over £2million, just on this clause. Staggering…

Read the small print
How many times have you read, “Read the small print”? And how many times do you dismiss it and press “Accept”?
The problem is that big companies will have terms and conditions that are so onerous that they will have their customers, what ever they want. Personally I’ve always kept my T&Cs to the point, easy to read and never overly complicated.
In fact there was, I think it was an online gaming company who changed their T&Cs and one part they said that if you died, your soul had to be given to the company. It took a year before someone actually read their 400 pages of terms before it was ever picked up. Just proves the point that no one reads them properly.
Closer to home, the type of T&CS we need to look at are with leases, rentals and terms of reference for supply of goods and services. This is pretty basic stuff and for most of us we can understand and read. In a nutshell, you supply the goods/services and I pay.
There is a misnomer that most contracts can be closed with a degree of notice, well let me give you some examples where that doesn’t work and you need to read, or get someone to read the small print and advise accordingly.
Leases of premises. Long gone are the days when you signed up for a 25 year lease and if you needed to leave within that time it was never really a problem selling it on. In the early 1990s, with the recession we had then, people just simply closed up and the landlords had to deal with the fallout. Some pursued the lessee, some pursued the company, but it was costly and time consuming. The obvious thing was to shorten leases to 3 or 5 year terms. This became very acceptable and everyone was happy. But odd terms crept in, especially with notice to quit. Mostly if you had to give 6 months notice to quit, that was fine, until a clause was put in at the end of the contract that 6 months had to be given on top of the 6 months required. Beware of that one, especially if you have break clauses in your contracts.
In an ever more complicated world just keep an eye on what you sign, but I tend to ask the question, get it notated and signed “Is there anything onerous in the contract which you think will come to haunt me in the future or I should know about” Either suppliers want your business or they don’t, but if everyone asked that question T&CS would be much easier to understand.

Banking Scams

1 ; Also known as “phishing”. Banks, building societies, any financial institution will NEVER ask you for your banking details and certainly will never ask you for your passwords.
2 : Banking on the internet if you are in business :
Remember to “Log-out” when you have finished.
Make sure no-one is looking over your shoulder.
Pain as it is, if you have to leave your PC, log-out. There will always be a distraction and someone, somewhere will garner details when you are not watching. Be vigilant.
3 : If you bank over the internet, make sure your PC has a good anti-virus program installed. To a degree it’s safe because the banks have worked hard on fraud because it costs them. But it’s all the hassle if someone does steal your details.

Scams that you need to watch out for :
If it is just too good to be true, then it’s a scam. “Get Rich Quick” schemes, no matter how plausible just do not work.
Free trial” scams. Deceptive “free trial” offers topped the list of consumer trust abuses in 2009, and according to the Better Business Bureau, companies that peddle diet pills, teeth whitening strips, wrinkle creams, “free” government grant reports, anti-aging miracles and other purported something-for-nothings show no sign of slowing down. They want your banking / credit card details that’s all, and by the time you’ve found out, it’s too late, and believe me, trying to unravel fraud is very time consuming, highly inconvenient and bloody annoying, because you just feel so stupid when you’ve been caught out.
Credit card & Loan reclaim scams
The FSA has dealt hard with these companies and they still keep popping up. They claim they can find laws your credit-card/loan provider violated to get you off the hook. Aiming to exploit financially strapped homeowners, in exchange for an upfront fee of several hundred pounds, these “experts” offer to review your financial documents to find out whether their issuer complied with the contracts you signed, citing credit card rules. And needless to say, they’ve got your cash and just don’t deliver.
Directory Scams – I see this scam year after year, and it evidently keeps working because the scammers have not given up on it. The scammer will call the business claiming they just want to update the company’s entry in an online directory or the scammer may even lie about being with the Yellow Pages. The business is later billed hundreds of pounds for listing services they didn’t agree to or for ads which they thought would be in the Yellow Pages. I’ve heard of stories where when they call to verify the information they ask a bunch of yes/no questions, such as ‘is your address still …’ and ‘is your phone number still xxx’. The person who answers the phone, usually the receptionist, answers yes. When the company receives the bill and tries to dispute it, they play a recording of the scammer asking questions that are not audible, but the company clearly answering yes. They say this confirms the business wanted the service. To combat that, have the receptionist answer questions ‘correct’ instead of ‘yes’. Further, the receptionist shouldn’t answer questions on behalf of the company of that nature and put the call through to someone that has the authority to deal with these people.
Overpayment Scams – Be very leery if a customer overpays for a product with a cheque or credit card then asks that the extra money be wired back to them or a third party. This is a huge red flag. These scams have targeted a variety of different companies including caterers, manufacturers, wholesalers and even sellers on sites like eBay, Craigslist and Etsy. Not only is the original payment usually bogus, the company will lose the “overpayment amount” and the cost of the goods and services provided as well. Another variant someone emails for services or a product in advance because they are coming into the UK and want to settle their accounts prior to using them. Then several weeks later, phone to cancel and demand their money back, payable through Weston Union or Nochex, then your credit card issuers states that you have been scammed and then demands their money back. Could be painful.
Data Breaches – No matter how vigilant a company is, a data breach can still happen. It can be the result of hackers, negligence or a disgruntled employee and it can have a severe impact on the level of trust customers have in a business. I’ve heard of scammers calling a business, like an auto repair shop, and asking which credit card they just used to pay for repairs because they need to make another purchase and they don’t want to be over their limit. In reality the scammer may have just been hanging around in the lobby or have just dug thru the garbage and found a customer’s name. The scammer claims to be that person and the employee is none the wiser. Train employees to never give out customer information, even if it appears legitimate. Your customers will thank you!
Vanity Awards – While it’s flattering to be recognized for your hard work, some awards are just money-making schemes and have no actual merit. Be cautious about receiving a business or leadership award, especially if you have to buy your own plaque or have to pay money. I had one company check on one of these scams and they said they had to pay £100 for a plaque. Thanks, but no thanks.
Stolen Identity – Scammers will often pretend to be a legitimate company for the purpose of ripping off consumers or even other businesses. I heard of a story where two scamsters pulled information off a company’s website – board members’ names, etc., then posed as them and applied for loans for their “company.” They actually got it and when they were arrested, they had two more complete packets ready to mail out. While a company may not actually lose money in the process, their reputation can certainly be tarnished if customers were ripped off using the business’s good name.
Not So “Free” Trial Offers – Misleading free trial offers online for diet supplements, penny auctions and money making schemes blanket the internet resulting in thousands of complaints ever year. The free trial offers seem no-risk but complainants state they were repeatedly billed every month and found it extremely difficult to cancel.
Advance Fee Loan Scams – A perennial problem, advance fee loan scams prey on consumers and business owners who are struggling financially. Victims are told they qualify for large loans but must pay upfront fees —often the victim wires money to the scammers, but never receives the loan.
Phishing E-mails – This one is huge! Some phishing e-mails specifically target small business owners with the goal of hacking into their computer or network. Examples include e-mails pretending to be from HMRC (an example below, this is one I recently received) claiming the company has underreported income or from the Office of Fair Trading saying the company has received a complaint. In the example of the HMRC email, a bookkeeper in Lancashire was so concerned, clicked on the link and gave the hackers all the information they wanted. Within a 24 hour period, the company had lost £50,000. Train employees not to click on links in emails, and certainly not to give out information to unsolicited requesters. If in doubt, go directly to the site or call the agency to confirm the legitimacy of the email. Being vigilant against fraud is not only important for a company’s bottom line, it also strengthens customer trust in the business. Becoming a victim of fraud can have a negative financial and reputational impact on a business and I recommend that owners train their staff to look out for the common scams that prey on small business.
Classic HMRC scam email :

Dear citizen,

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive tax refund of
481.22 GBP.
Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 3-5 days in order to process it.

To access your tax refund, please download and fill the Tax Refund Form attached to this email
– open it in a browser (recommended mozilla firefox or google
chrome)

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example :
-invalid records
-applying after the deadline

IMPORTANT:
If you find this email in Bulk, Spam or Junk please move it to your inbox as not to jeopardize the future our communication with you.
It is essential to receive all emails from us to be in touch.

HM Revenue & Customs
For personal Self Assessment queries:
HM Revenue & Customs
Self Assessment
PO Box 4000
Cardiff
CF14 8HR

A few notes here, HMRC would never send an email like this.
Look out for appalling grammatical mistakes
HMRC never call anyone “citizen”
Never, ever open up the attachment.
Look at the email address, carefully, this one was addressed info@HMRC.com
And if there was a refund, you would receive a cheque first, you can ask questions later.

Advertising on behalf of the Fire and Rescue and other emergency services. Small businesses in Cumbria are being warned to be on their guard against cold callers falsely claiming to be selling advertising on behalf of the Fire and Rescue and other emergency services. Recently, two pubs –one in Workington and another near Carlisle were called by someone claiming to represent Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service. The caller attempted to sell advertising space in a county-wide publication, but when challenged regarding his authenticity he became verbally abusive and terminated the call. On the back of this officers from Cumbria County Council’s Trading Standards team and Cumbria Fire and Rescue service are urging small businesses to hang up on cold callers selling advertising in publications who they believe may be suspicious. The Office of Fair Trading and trading standards services nationwide have received hundreds of complaints about the tactics of some telesales companies, particularly false claims about links to the emergency services or charities. Cumbria Trading Standards also have concerns about demands for payment for advertising space that businesses have never agreed to buy.

The following further tips can reduce the risks from cold call scams:
1 : Always be careful when approached with requests for money or for advertising in magazines.
2 : Don’t take unsolicited calls when you are busy and can’t give the seller your full attention – if you want to talk, ask them to call back at a convenient time.
3 : Don’t agree to something on the phone just to get rid of a persistent caller – legally binding agreements can be made over the phone.
4 : Be wary of unsolicited callers suggesting or implying that you are placing an order or entering an agreement when you don’t wish to do so.
5 : Be wary of follow-up calls – you may think they’re just verifying details, but they may be trying to trick you into entering into an agreement. Actually, the one thing that does irritate me is when someone calls pretending to know me and asks for me by my first name, as if I’m some long lost mate. Then follows up by saying that we’ve had a conversation sometime back and wants either more details or trying to close an expensive deal on the phone. In fact never close a deal on the phone unless they are trusted. Ask them to visit you in person. Exceptions will be BT and the utilities, they are trusted to a point, but of course you can record your call. In theory if you do, you must tell them that the call is being recorded.
6 : If you’re not clear about any details, don’t be rushed – ask questions. Think about it and ask them to call back. Ask them to put it in writing or email so you have a copy incase of any disputes.
7 : Don’t be pressurised into paying for services you haven’t agreed to, or that haven’t been provided. If you are threatened with debt collectors or a credit black-listing, remember that ultimately only a court can decide whether you are liable to pay and disputes with another business will not necessarily affect your credit rating.
8 : The trick about advertising is that only half of it works. The real deal is working out which half! If you want to advertise then get quotations and make sure you are dealing with legitimate businesses before parting with money or personal information.

Email scams

There are 2 sorts of email scams.
1 : you receive an email with an attachment (usually with a botnet virus) which then infects your PC or the attachment has a downloadable document that ask you to confirm your banking details.
1: these emails look like they are from someone legitimate. Usually Amazon, DHL, TNT etc. the telltale point here is that most will never email you and if they did the letter would be addressed to you personally. But they will grab the first part of your name in the email, so if it’s like mine, Richard, you need to check. Also did you order something from Amazon.
2: ones I’ve been receiving lately look like they come from one of our suppliers with just a plain attachment, that is a botnet and usually if it is real they would have some details on it that you would recognise.
3: just be extra vigilant and if in doubt, never open the email and call the people. Most anti-virus software picks up these scams and puts them into a special file for later deletion. Some email ISPs will stop them before they get to you, Apple, Gmail are good examples.
Or
2 : You receive and email from a so called long lost friend who you’ve never heard of write to you stating that there is a fortune stashed away and needs recovering.
They trick you into paying so called “release fees” and it’s convincing and people pay and at that point they’ve been scammed. Here typically is the sort of email you can receive, they are also know as Nigerian 419 letters

From Miss Sara Albert
Abidjan Cote d’Ivoire .

(CONFIDENTIAL MESSAGE) Dearest One,

Good thing to write you. I have a proposal for you.
This however is not mandatory nor will I in any manner compel you to honour
against your will.
I am Miss Sara Albert , the only daughter of my late parents Mr and Mrs Atta
Albert. My father was a highly reputable business magnet-(a Cocoa Merchant,
Diamond and Gold Dealer) who operated in the capital of Ivory Coast during his
days. It is sad to say that he passed away mysteriously in France during one of
his business trips abroad on 2nd March 2013.
Though his sudden death was linked or rather suspected to have been masterminded
by an uncle of his who travelled with him at that time. But God knows the truth!
My mother died when I was just 4 years old, and since then my father took me so
special.
Before his death on 2nd March 2013 he called the secretary who accompanied him
to the hospital and told him that he has the sum of Seventeen Million, Seven
Hundred Thousand United State Dollars.(USD$17.7M) deposited in SECURITY COMPANY in Abidjan Cote d’Ivoire.
He further told him that he deposited the Consignment in my name as the next of
kin and he registered the Consignment as Family Valuables and finally issued a
written instruction to his lawyer whom he said is in possession to handle all
the necessary legal documents of the Consignment which he deposited in the
SECURITY COMPANY and he instructed the lawyer to handover the documents to me whenever I need it.
I am a university undergraduate and really don’t know what to do.
Now I want a foreign partner who assists me to retrieve this consignment from
the SECURITY COMPANY in Abidjan Cote d棚voire .
This is because I have suffered a lot of set backs as a result of incessant
political crisis here in Ivory coast. The death of my father actually brought
sorrow to my life. I am in a sincere desire of your humble assistance in this
regards.
Your suggestions and ideas will be highly regarded.
Now permit me to ask these few questions:-
1.Can you kindly tell me what the type of a profitable venture this fund will
used to invest avoid waste of it.
2). Can you honestly help me as your daughter?
3). Can I completely trust you?
4). What percentage of the total amount in question will be good for you after
you have collected this consignment on my behalf?

Thanks and remain blessed, waiting to hear from you,

Yours Sincerely,

Miss Sara Albert.

Why doesn’t she collect the money herself? But believe it or not, for every 2 million of these emails they send, 3 will respond…….

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