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Scam Alert

Local businesses hit by rise in scams – 05/09/2011

Small and medium businesses are being urged to be extra vigilant to avoid being caught out by scammers

The warning comes from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s Trading Standards Service (TSS) following an alarming increase in complaints from businesses being 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.”

TSS has recently received a number of complaints from small businesses in the Larne area that have been misled into paying for advertising.

Mr Maurice McIlroy, is one local businessman who fell victim of the scam. He explained: “I was contacted by the sales representative of an English-based company who produce and sell advertising space in 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.

“As part of the deal, I was also informed that I could get discount up to the value of the ad at the Chinese restaurant over the two year period. This suited us as we often used the restaurant for group functions.”

When Mr McIlroy contacted the Chinese restaurant to use the discount he was told that they were not aware of the promised offer. He also discovered that the actual number of menus distributed was significantly lower than what had been agreed, as the restaurant had received less than 3,000 menus over the past year.

Mr McIlroy concluded: “I tried to cancel the contract but have been told that I am unable to do so. I feel that I was totally misled and I would like to warn other businesses to be on their guard and not to fall for this con. I immediately cancelled my credit card to avoid any further payments being taken.”

Scams are becoming increasingly well planned, well thought out and plausible and they can take the form of letters, emails, faxes, telephone calls and text messages.

Damien 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.”

Businesses can help protect themselves by making sure that staff know how to spot a scam and how to avoid being scammed. TSS offer the following advice to business owners:

· Have a limited number of authorised employees to approve purchases of goods and services, and ensure all other employees know that they can’t discuss ordering or payments.

· Agree to nothing from a phone call. A legitimate company will be happy to put everything in writing. Sign nothing until you’ve reviewed the contract and the small print in detail.

· Ask questions. Find out how they got your details, ask for their phone number and address. Establish what it is they are asking you to sign up to. Research the goods or service being offered.

· Should you receive an invoice for a listing you don’t believe you’ve ordered, write back saying so and keep a copy of the letter.

So what should you do if you spot a scam? If in doubt, don’t reply. Instead, bin it, delete it or hang up. If your business is the victim of a scam, or has information about a suspected scam, you can report it through the Domain Scams website.

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