By Claudia Kozeny-Pelling
Did you know online business scams are on the rise in the UK? If you’re a business owner or freelancer, you should be mindful of these, so you’ll know what to do if you’re affected.
Writing about attempted fraud isn’t something I normally do. I’m an SEO content writer and translator, so my usual topics are marketing translation, SEO, and running an ethical business.
Katie kindly invited me to share my experiences and tips with you here after I had a stressful encounter with one of these scams. Make sure to bookmark this page in case you ever need to act swiftly!
Note from Katie…wait, why the lack of pictures? In an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of my web presence, I am only using images at the very top of my posts, as well as where they serve a true purpose, such as headshots or infographics. That’s why you won’t find any purely decorative photos here anymore.
1. Online fraud is increasing in the UK
First, some worrying facts:
- In June 2022, The Guardian reported “more than £1.3bn was stolen by con artists” in 2021. There was a sharp rise of impersonation scams, “where criminals pretend to be from a trusted contact to trick victims into moving their money.”
- According to Action Fraud, only once a financial loss has occurred will a scam be legally treated as “fraud”.
- Someone pretending to be a person or reputable business isn’t as hard as you might think. In my case, no hacking was involved. All the scammers needed was my publicly available company name and their own contact details. More on this below.
Fake job ads on online job portals
A few weeks ago, I received applications from hopeful translators who had seen a job advertisement placed on Indeed UK and wanted to chat about the role. This ad had been posted in my company’s name.
I run a one-woman limited company and don’t recruit, so I immediately informed those who had contacted me and reported the ad to Indeed UK. I did this by using their on-page reporting tool and—to speed up the process—by tagging them on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Some red flags about fake ads 🚩
- Poor spelling/grammar. In my case, the text had been written in bad English. It also invited applicants to apply for flexible translation work in various language combinations, such as Russian, Spanish, Italian, French, and English. (My company, however, only offers English ↔ German language services – another red flag.)
- New accounts / little company info. The business profile on Indeed UK was bare – there were no reviews and no further information. It used my exact company name, though there is only one business of that name trading in the UK’s Companies House directory (mine).
- Wrong location. The company’s location was supposedly in London (unlike my true business location in the UK).
Why do scammers post fake ads?
There are various reasons why fake ads are posted. Scammers could, for example, use the personal information in CVs for advance fee fraud, identity fraud, or they could simply give applicants work but never pay them.
What you can do to report fake ads
It’s not enough to report false ads to job portals. Jobseekers and other business owners in your network need to be made aware of the scam—for their sakes as well as for your own business reputation.
As mentioned above, impersonation attempts aren’t legally fraud, as no money has been lost yet. However, I’d argue they can do serious reputational and financial damage in the long term. That’s why it’s important to file formal reports and insist on answers.
In a more comprehensive blog post on this incident, I gave detailed tips for business owners and job applicants who might be affected, but here is a quick to-do list:
- Post about the incident on social media and in your professional networks.
- Report the matter to relevant fraud organisations and, if appropriate, to your national data protection agencies. (In the UK, you can file reports online with JobsAware, Action Fraud, and the ICO.)
- Run a search for your exact business name on Google. Fake job ads often get copied to other online job directories all over the world. If you find any entries, report them.
- Demand answers from job portals:
- How was this fraud attempt possible in the first place? (I hadn’t been hacked and there had been no verification attempt to my real business email address.)
- What exactly will the job portal do to prevent this from happening again?
- Is the personal data of applicants safe?
- If not, have they reported the incident to the ICO (UK), or the relevant national information commissioner’s office?
In my case, Indeed stated there had been “no indication of a data breach”. They also confirmed they followed “internal procedures” to investigate and remove the fraudulent job posting. I probably won’t get full answers on e.g. how many applicants were affected unless I report the case to Interpol.
2. Payment diversion fraud
This type of fraud is also known as “business email compromise” or “mandate fraud”. It mainly affects small businesses and is easy to fall for, as the emails often look very convincing.
How payment diversion fraud works
Scammers typically will impersonate a trusted supplier you’ve been dealing with. They’ll contact you by email, using an almost perfect copy of the supplier’s email address, name, and/or their branded email template.
- request an “outstanding payment”, or
- inform you of a “change” to their bank account details.
This scam is effective, especially as the scammers often put in a lot of effort to make their email and invoice look as convincing as possible. Unsuspecting business owners may take these official-looking documents at face value and transfer money to the scammer’s bank account.
Scam emails could even include viruses or other malicious software. So: don’t open any attachments or follow any links unless you’re 100% sure they’re trustworthy.
Is it a bogus invoice scam? Some red flags 🚩
Warning signals can include:
- extremely urgent requests;
- poor spelling or grammar;
- slight differences in the email address or design of the email template;
- an email sent at the busy ‘year-end’ period when many business owners are overwhelmed and may pay less attention.
What can you do to report fraud attempts?
If you suspect an email is from a scammer
Before making any payments or clicking on any links or attachments, get in touch with the suppliers (directly, via their official website / phone number) and check whether the email is genuine.
If it isn’t, report it to Action Fraud, and block and report the contact to your email provider. If you are in Scotland, call 101 to report this fraud attempt to Police Scotland.
If you’ve already paid, clicked on a link, or shared any personal information
Sometimes we act before we’ve had time to think. Here are some things you can do:
- If you’ve already paid, immediately contact your business bank and report it to Action Fraud. Call 101 if you’re in Scotland.
- Forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or use the “Report Phishing” button in your email account if it’s available. Flag the message as spam/junk in your inbox. Also, follow general anti-phishing advice.
- Open your antivirus software and run a full report asap if you’ve clicked on a link or opened an attachment.
- Contact your IT support team (if you have one) for further guidance.
- Follow the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre’s advice if you already shared any personal / sensitive information.
3. “Work from home” business scams
With the cost-of-living crisis, one income stream may not be enough for some freelancers or small business owners. Scammers know this and could target them with “work from home” scams. You’ve probably seen adverts or flyers promising a flexible working opportunity that’ll fit around your needs. This type of scam is very common. Be careful and don’t believe the hype.
A few months ago, I even received a DM on LinkedIn from a seemingly trustworthy contact, promising me a lucrative “second income stream” in the health and lifestyle sector.
How “work from home” scams work
The ad (or contact) will promise you to:
- be able to start your own (or a second) business in your own time;
- earn a great minimum amount of money; and
- Run successful businesses with no prior experience or qualifications.
Normally, you won’t receive further details at this stage, just a mobile number or a (usually private) email address.
Spot these red flags 🚩
Once you reply, you’ll typically be asked to pay a certain sum of money in advance. You may need to:
- pay a “registration fee”, buy an instruction manual or a “starter kit”;
- purchase customer leads / mailing lists;
- buy your own website; and/or
- pay for products you’re supposed to sell, or raw materials you need to assemble.
Action Fraud warns that many of these so-called business opportunities “only allow you to earn money if you introduce more people” to them. This can be true for pyramid schemes and also for some multi-level-marketing businesses (MLMs), which we’ll look at more closely below.
Who really makes profit here?
Fact: a research study published by the US Federal Trade Commission found that only approximately 0.4% of MLM participants profited after expenses. (These were, most likely, the people on top of the selling “pyramid”).
You can also find an interesting chart compiled by Ocean Finance UK, showing you how many products MLM participants need to sell to make the UK median wage. Often, meeting this target is very difficult to achieve.
Think you’re being scammed? Report it
If you’re not sure a “working from home” opportunity is legit, why not use Action Fraud’s free live web chat functionality to get some advice? (You’ll find it in the bottom-right corner of their homepage.)
Useful resources and links for common scams
The above list is, of course, not exhaustive, so check out this A-Z of business scams to protect yourself. Other common frauds include, e.g., selling “advertising space” in bogus publications, fake listings in business directories, investment scams, leasing scams, and many more.
Here’s a quick summary of links and phone numbers that can help you if you’ve been affected:
- https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/ (tel. 0300 123 2040. Call 101 to report fraud to Police Scotland).
- https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/personal-data-breaches/ (contact the ICO if scammers were able to gain any personal data through fraud or hacking).
- https://www.jobsaware.co.uk/report (also report fake job ads here).
- https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/section/information-for/self-employed-sole-traders (cybersecurity tips for the self-employed / sole traders).
- https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/section/information-for/small-medium-sized-organisations (cybersecurity tips for SMEs).
- https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/collection/phishing-scams/what-to-do (phishing scam advice).
- https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/cyberaware/home (cybersecurity tips).
- https://www.takefive-stopfraud.org.uk/advice/business-advice/ (business fraud advice).
I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks again, Katie, for letting me share my experiences here!
Claudia Kozeny-Pelling, the founder of Translate Digital Marketing Ltd, is a bilingual SEO content writer and translator (English ↔ German, DipTrans MCIL). She especially loves writing and translating online marketing content for ethical and sustainable businesses. 🌱
Claudia is originally from Germany, but has been living in the UK since 1997. Her background is in publishing and communications, including social media marketing.