Scammers and traps for start ups

Starting your own business is a big step and one that often isn’t thought through. “Business plan? Goodness me, no I haven’t got one.” However, other difficulties that arise in the first couple of years arise from being too trusting and assuming that everyone with whom you deal is acting in good faith.

I freely admit I was caught out once or twice in the early years. Working for someone else, we are often insulated from outsiders trying to screw us out of a couple of bob or quarters or whatever currency we deal in. When we own the business we are in the front line. So it is that when someone telephones and asks to speak to the person who looks after the marketing and advertising, we will often say quite proudly “you are speaking to that person”. We will then take what the caller has to say at face value.

In my first year or so on my own, I had a call from someone who said he was selling advertising in a magazine which would be in all the local doctors’ and dentists’ surgeries, and which was sent out on a quarterly basis. Would I like an ad? When you start out you are often a bit short of business, so I said I would like to try an advert. They sent me a proof of the ad after we had agreed its content over the telephone, I had an invoice and I paid it by cheque. Guess what? The magazine was fictitious. I don’t mean it was an anthology of stories. I mean that it didn’t exist, and I had been taken for £100 I could ill afford, and of course by the time I realised that the fraudsters were long gone.

I learned a serious lesson from that, and it has stood me in good stead.

Another favourite in the UK and I am sure it has its equivalent in other countries is the Data Protection Agency Fraud. If in the course of your business you hold personal data for your customers or clients you must register with the Information Commissioners and pay an annual renewable license fee of currently £35. However, there are scammers who will write to you and offer to register your business for a much higher sum. They send official looking and quite threatening letters in brown envelopes, and there is an example here.

When I received the first of many such letters, fortunately my alarm bells rang and I checked on the internet where there is a great deal of information about this scam. I am pleased to say that people have been jailed over this racket but usually when the raids take place the criminals are long gone. They use PO Boxes and mail forwarding services and are very clever. If you need to register under the Data Protection Act do it directly to the Information Commissioners after downloading their form online.

Then again there is a charity scam which is quite common. I expect it is intended to be targeted at businesses just larger than micro-businesses, but even if there is just you and you are busy with other things you might get caught out. Anyway, someone calls, and the ploy is clever. They tell you that someone in your office, perhaps you, agreed some months ago when they called before that your business would either make a donation to a charity, or you would take an advert in a charity magazine. They will say something along the lines of “the money will go to a charity to help the disabled children” of your town, which they will name. Now, when they name my village, it is transparently obvious that they are blagging, because I would have heard of any special charity, and our village probably is not large enough to have such a charity of its own. However, if you are in a larger town, say Bradford or Canterbury, it is quite possible that there might be such a charity and a busy person or someone in a larger office could fall for it and give the company credit card number to the caller.

The scam works on credibility. If the caller says someone in your office was called and agreed to the payment some weeks ago your instinct might be not to go against this. Of course no one called before, but the lie is simply to suck you in.

It is stating the obvious, but never, never give a credit card number to someone you don’t know who has made contact with you by telephone. You would not if you had such a call on your private line, but if you get a call on your business line from someone purporting to represent another business or a charity it really would be all to easy to be drawn in. I haven’t done it myself, but have been led to the water from which I refused to drink. I think I know better, but people fall for these and the very credible online phishing scams. The crooks are out to get us. Be careful out there!

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