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Cyber Security

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Keep your business safe from Brexit scams

Fraudsters are likely to use the UK’s departure from the EU as an opportunity to prey upon businesses. Here are some common scams to be aware of.

Last updated: 06 Jan 2021 6 min read

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As the UK enters into a new relationship with the EU, changes in regulation and requirements for businesses will present a new opportunity for cybercriminals to attempt to exploit any disruption or uncertainty for monetary gain.

“With the end of the Brexit transition period, it is anticipated that there will be a renewed surge of impersonation scams as has been seen during the coronavirus pandemic,” says James Turley, fraud awareness analyst at NatWest. “Indeed, UK Finance, the trade association for the UK banking and financial services sector, reported that impersonation scams nearly doubled in the first six months of 2020, with almost 15,000 cases reported.

“Businesses should be alert to suspicious behaviour, such as calls from known organisations urging them to move funds to a new safe account as a result of leaving the EU. Your bank will never ask you to do this.

“We would encourage businesses to ensure all staff are aware of the common types of fraud listed here, and to remain vigilant. Importantly, make sure you train employees on how to recognise suspicious emails, texts and phone calls, as well as what to do if they receive one.”

So, what should businesses look out for?

Invoice redirection

In an invoice redirection scam, a fraudster might pose as a creditor or supplier who is advising you that their company’s bank details have changed due to the Brexit transition period ending. Should such an incident occur, contact your suppliers and creditors independently to make sure the request is genuine using contact details that you already hold on file or have obtained independently.

Businesses should also be alert to suspicious phone calls, texts or emails from anyone claiming to be from the bank with a message about Brexit asking them to provide personal details and urging them to respond quickly. Trusted organisations will never ask you for your full pin or password, card reader codes, or ask you to move money from your account.

For more about invoice redirection scams, click here.

HMRC impersonation

Fraudsters are posing as HMRC to target UK businesses that trade in the EU. These criminals have been targeting businesses claiming they need to register for a ‘UK trader number’ if they trade with EU countries. The goal of these scams is to get victims to reveal information such as passwords and pins, or to send money directly.

Remember that HMRC will never ask you for payment or personal details by email or text.

You can report suspicious HMRC emails, text messages and phone calls here.

Bogus Brexit investment schemes

Beware of people contacting you about reducing the damage of Brexit to your business through investments. Fraudsters are likely to call unsuspecting victims to encourage them to make or change an investment to capitalise on opportunities arising from the UK’s departure from the EU.

“Make sure you train employees on how to recognise suspicious emails, texts and phone calls, as well as what to do if they receive one” James Turley, fraud awareness analyst, NatWest

Always thoroughly investigate an investment scheme before handing over your money. Remember you can check the Financial Conduct Authority website for safe investment advice and which firms you should avoid.

To find out more about investment scams, click here.

Vishing (telephone fraud)

Vishing, or telephone fraud, involves fraudsters calling businesses or individuals and posing as genuine organisations in an attempt to extract sensitive information or money. Be cautious if you receive an unexpected phone call in relation to Brexit, as these could be from fraudsters claiming to be from your bank, government, or an official organisation that you trust. Treat all unsolicited phone calls with suspicion and never be afraid to hang up if you are unsure who you’re speaking to.

For more about vishing scams, click here.

Smishing (text message fraud)

Cybercriminals will target UK businesses with bogus texts linked to Brexit, again claiming to be from the government or another trusted organisation. This type of scam is called smishing. The messages will likely include links or attachments that will lead to an attempt to infect your device with a virus or redirect you to a fake website that could compromise your account details.

Remember that fraudsters can send messages using alpha tags (the name at the top of the message, telling you who sent it) from genuine companies to make their fake messages appear to be real.

To find out more about text message fraud, click here.

Phishing (email fraud)

Be alert to bogus emails discussing issues related to Brexit. As businesses seek clarification on new rules relating to the UK’s departure from the EU, fraudsters will likely exploit this opportunity to impersonate trusted sources of information, such as the government or HMRC. Clicking on a link in a bogus email, or downloading an attachment, could lead to the theft of details, such as passwords or banking information, or could install ransomware on your device, leaving it unusable until a fee is paid to hackers.

For more about email fraud, click here.

Purchase scams

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, fraudsters have been exploiting demand for items, such as face masks, test kits and hand sanitiser, by tricking victims into purchasing non-existent products online, often at discounted prices to attract buyers.

With the advent of Brexit, the demand for storage, in the form of shipping containers, is growing. Victims have responded to fake ads, phishing emails or cold calls offering such containers at prices that are significantly below market rates. In some cases fraudsters impersonate genuine suppliers, and in others the fraudsters reference a completely fictitious company.

Businesses should be on the lookout for fraudsters looking to exploit any disruption resulting from the end of the Brexit transition period to trick them into paying for goods or services that do not exist. It is crucial for businesses to be sure about who they are dealing with when entering into a commercial relationship with another business. Remember – if a deal looks too good to be true, the chances are that it is.

To find out more about purchase scams, click here.

For the latest information on Brexit for businesses, visit GOV.UK.

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