Businesses in County Durham are being urged to be vigilant against scams and fraud during uncertainty caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
During the pandemic, businesses across the UK have been targeted by scams such as false Government grant phone calls, malicious email attachments and CEO impersonation scams.
Action Fraud has reported that over £800,000 has been lost to scams relating to coronavirus.
As a result, Durham County Council is urging businesses to sign up to Businesses Against Scams, launched by the National Trading Standards Scams Team, which offers free online training to protect organisations, employees and customers from losing money to costly scams.
Scammers will use a variety of different methods to defraud businesses. Due to the recent increase in staff working from home, criminals are looking to profit from the isolation experienced by employees by impersonating Government agencies and pressurising staff to make payments or give out sensitive information.
Fraudsters will also falsely claim to be from a Government body, such as a local authority, to commit mandate fraud.
For example, an email claiming to be from a Durham County Council supplier was sent requesting a change in their bank details for payment. A payment of £8,000 was subsequently made to the new account before it was established that the email had not originated from the supplier and was a fraud.
After enquiries revealed the money was paid into a false account, the suppliers’ details were corrected, and no further payments were issued to the fraudsters.
There have also been cases whereby scammers have claimed to be calling from the council’s Community Hub or other local authority services.
Additionally, the introduction of business support grants offered by the Government has been exploited by criminals who have subsequently contacted businesses to offer support in the application process and either requesting a fee for this service or asking for sensitive information which may then be used to extort money.
Businesses Against Scams also warn against the dangers of CEO fraud which plays on the authority of directors and senior managers.
For example, an organisation the council works in partnership with was scammed into paying £22,000. An email thread between the organisation’s CEO and finance officer was hacked and an invoice was sent to finance requesting urgent payment. As the finance officer thought the email was from their CEO, they processed the payment.
Cllr Brian Stephens, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods and local partnerships, said: “These examples show how easy it is to fall victim to sophisticated scams and the devastating financial impact they can have on businesses.
“The coronavirus pandemic has created uncertainty for a lot of people and businesses which, unfortunately, scammers are wrongly using as an opportunity to fraudulently gain money or sensitive information.
“We would encourage businesses to check the authenticity of a call or email before responding.
“If you are in any doubt, end the phone call and use a search engine to find a correct contact number for the organisation to check if the communication was genuine. Concerns about a potential fraud and scam can also be reported to us.”
Durham County Council’s Trading Standards is encouraging local businesses to sign up to Businesses Against scams at www.friendsagainstcams.org.uk/BAS
Further e-learning about more general scams, including those which have emerged recently in response to the coronavirus pandemic is also available at www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/elearning/durham