How to dodge the fraudsters

Online fraud is the bane of modern businesses but it’s easy to stay a step ahead of the fraudsters by taking a few simple precautions

Fraud is a growth industry in the UK, with instances of the crime rising by double-digit percentages every year. Fraudsters like the fact they can commit the crimes quietly and discretely – in many cases without coming into contact with their victims at all.

Frauds are committed by all kinds of people in all kinds of ways, be they business people perpetrating high-level, multimillion-pound ventures, or consumers taking advantage of quick, low-denomination swindles. So, with cases of this pernicious activity on the rise, to what extent are businesses vulnerable, and what can entrepreneurs do to protect themselves? We consider some common frauds and offer tips on how you can fight back.

Credit card fraud

Fraud involving credit cards is a phenomenon. According to the UK Cards Association, cardholder not present fraud – when card details are input to a website or over the phone – cost the UK £245 million in 2012 alone, up 11 per cent on the previous year.

Tip: Never give your business card details during an unsolicited phone call. Genuine companies rarely ask for such sensitive data when they’re getting in touch with you.

Identity theft

Identity theft involving credit or debit card scams has increased 42 per cent in a single year and fraudsters are constantly coming up with new ways to improve their operations and make their crimes harder to trace.

Tip: Consider what data you keep on record and how you store it. This could be company records or information about staff members. Is it all password protected? Do you shred documents before you throw them away?

Commercial fraud

In general, commercial fraud covers items miss-sold to consumers. Again, victims can be affected in numerous ways – for example, by receiving a product that is of lower material value than the one advertised for sale. In other cases, customers miss out completely and never receive the item they paid for. When they complain the seller ignores them, denies dealing with the transaction or simply disappears completely.

Tip: To avoid being accused of commercial fraud, make sure product descriptions are clear and not open to misinterpretation. Temporary offers should be clearly explained and product images should be specifically of the item for sale, not a close approximation. Your terms and conditions page should include clear information about your delivery and returns policy, and contact details should be easy to locate.

“Fraudsters are constantly coming up with new ways to improve their operations and make their crimes harder to trace.”


Phishing can be conducted online, over the phone or via letters or even text messages. Fraudsters pose as legitimate businesses – usually a well-known bank, retailer or card processor – and attempt to solicit payment details from their target.

Criminals often inject a sense of urgency by explaining that your account will be closed or it has been compromised in some way, but the main objective is always to obtain crucial details that can be used to trigger payments.

Tip: Never respond to unsolicited emails that ask for payment details, and never open links in emails from organisations you don’t trust completely. If you’re unsure, type URLs into your browser instead of clicking on links or, if someone calls, ask to call them back on a different line.

Computer viruses and hackers

Viruses and hackers have been around since the dawn of the internet but the way they gain access to the information stored on computers is becoming increasingly sophisticated. The trap can be triggered via an email attachment or an infected website but hackers generally use malicious code to trick your computer into thinking you have granted them access or simply by aggressively stripping the data you have stored.

Tip: Never open attachments if you are not absolutely sure of the contents. Assess the content of emails and webpages and consider whether they are genuine: if suspicious, delete emails immediately and avoid untrustworthy websites.

Social media

Social media is a growing vehicle for fraudsters who generally prey on naïve and good-natured people. They either entice account holders to accept them as friends or contacts, or they obtain passwords and use them to access multiple accounts with the same login details.

Tip: Create a unique login (or a variation of the same login) for each account you open. Make sure logins for unimportant accounts are not the same as bank accounts, payment processors, social media or any other service that is crucial to your business.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK