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Small businesses - know your scams!

“Are you for real?” is the question every small business should be asking as part of their toolkit to avoid scams according to the Small Business Commissioner John Chapman.

“Too often we hear how people have lost money because they thought they were dealing with a well-known party such as the Australian Tax Office or one of the major banks,” Mr Chapman said. “Every small business needs to be on their guard to deal with the scoundrels out there who seek to impersonate genuine businesses and government agencies for their own financial gain.”

Mr Chapman made the comments in the lead up to this years’ Scams Awareness Week, which runs from 21–25 May 2018 and is being led by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The ACCC’s Scamwatch received almost 33,000 reports of these scams in 2017. Over $4.7 million was reported lost and more than 2800 people gave their personal information to these scammers.

When scammers impersonate government officials, they may tell their target they owe a tax debt or there are problems with government benefits, immigration forms or visa status and that money must be paid immediately to pay the debt or other fees to fix the issue. Sometimes the business owner or their staff may be threatened with arrest or deportation.

Scammers also pretend to be from trusted organisations like Telstra, Australia Post or the police. They may ask for remote access to a person’s computer to fix a problem or track down hackers or they may email fake bills or fines, then threaten to cancel the service or charge fees if the business or other party does not respond favourably.

Sometimes scammers will jump on the phone or send an email to get funds which are to be paid to a known company which businesses regularly deal with, shifted to a new bank account.

Scams Awareness Week is an initiative of the Scams Awareness Network, a group of Australian and New Zealand government agencies with responsibility for consumer protection and policing in scams, cyber safety and fraud. The Office of the Small Business Commissioner is a member of this network.

“Small businesses are particularly at risk of being scammed as they have so much to lose. Protecting their business from scams is essential and could prevent possible financial stress.” Mr Chapman said.

Network members want to raise awareness about these scams as the scammers and their threats can seem genuine and frightening. They make potential victims feel as if they’ve done something wrong or that there’s some urgency and unless there is immediate action, severe consequences await.

“The ACCC advises that small business scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated and that scammers will go to great lengths” Mr Chapman said. “Scammers know that small business people are very busy and then can often miss the key signs in identifying a scam.”

If anyone receives an unexpected and threatening call or email that seems to be from a government agency or trusted business, they are urged to follow these tips to ‘Stop and check: is this for real?’:

  • Always ask yourself whether the person or business that’s contacted you out of the blue is who they say they are.
  • Verify the identity of the contact through an independent source, such as a phone book or online search, then get in touch with them to ask if they contacted you. Don’t use the contact details provided by the caller or in the message sent to you.
  • Never send money, give your banking or credit card details or other personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust, and never by email or over the phone.
  • Know that a government agency or trusted business will never ask you to pay them with gift or store cards, iTunes cards, wire transfers or bitcoin.
  • Never give anyone remote access to your computer if they’ve contacted you out of the blue – whether through a phone call, pop up window or email.
  • Have a strong system in place to check invoices and that the business did receive the produce or service being offered.
  • Never redirect payments for goods and services to another bank account number provided by a person over the phone or in an email unless you can independently verify the change.

“Organisations big and small do not mind getting calls where their business partners or suppliers are checking to ensure they are paying the right account and the funds are going to the right place,” Mr Chapman said. “A simple check can save a financial loss and a lot of grief.”

For more information about these scams, where to get help or to report a scam, visit the Scamwatch website


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