Belfast Telegraph

Ulster firms losing millions to sophisticated business scams

By Heather McGarrigle

Business scams are on the rise in Northern Ireland, with conmen cheating firms out of millions.

The Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment's Trading Standards Service (TSS) is urging businesses to be vigilant, following an "alarming" increase in complaints from firms targeted by fraudsters.

Damien Doherty, area inspector for Trading Standards said: "While most of us think of scams as crimes against consumers, we tend to forget that businesses can fall victims to the rogues and conmen just as easily.

"Scamming businesses, both large and small, can be so profitable that many scammers now concentrate solely on targeting the business sector. Scams are a multi-million pound industry and businesses are often viewed as easy-pickings."

Scams are becoming increasingly well-planned and plausible and there has been a recent spate of con attempts reported in the Larne area.

Maurice McIlroy was targeted by an England-based company offering him advertising space on menus for a local Chinese restaurant.

"I was informed that 40,000 menus would be distributed throughout the Larne area over a two-year period via the restaurant and by mail drop. I agreed to place an advert at a cost of £416 per annum and paid a deposit.

However, the restaurant was unaware of the offer and also revealed that only around 3,000 menus had ever been produced.

Mr McIlroy was unable to cancel the contract but cancelled his credit card to prevent further payments being taken.

Scams can take the form of letters, emails, faxes, telephone calls and text messages.

Mr Doherty commented: "We see examples, on almost a daily basis, in which small businesses hand over money to the scammers without researching the service being offered, or finding out details about the company they are dealing with. Unfortunately, by the time the matter is reported to Trading Standards, the scammers have disappeared and it's too late to get any money back."

Advice issued by the TSS includes having a limited number of employees able to authorise orders; never agreeing to anything over the phone; keeping all paperwork and querying any invoices for goods or services you don't believe you've agreed to.