12 Aug 2019 1:09 PM

The ICAEW recently highlighted a con that accountants Smith & Williamson unknowingly fell victim to where fraudsters set up a fake company to look like them to lure in potential investors and relieve them of their cash. 

This is a common type of fraud referred to as ‘cloning’ where your company is replicated by criminals to mislead existing and new clients.  These scams can get very sophisticated.  In this case fraudsters designed a variety of Smith & Williamson emails to look virtually indistinguishable from their branded ones, as well as two websites. It would be difficult, particularly for new clients, to spot cloned emails and websites.

What can consumers do?

Always beware of firms that approach you to solicit business.  Do your due diligence on any websites and contact information.  Check the internet carefully to see if there are any other websites for that company.  Try to find a phone number for the company (from an independent source) call them and simply ask if the communications you have received are legitimate.

What can companies do?

Search the internet regularly to check if there are any cloned websites your company.  Ensure your customers know exactly what your policies on to contacting them.  If you don’t ask for bill payments by phone or your website make sure your clients know; (it may be useful to include a reminder on your invoices or receipts), so that if a fraudster asks for payment using a method that is not the norm, they’ll be aware.

If you do find your company has been cloned inform any regulatory body you are a member of and very importantly, Action Fraud.  You could also publish a warning on your website or in client communications (such as newsletters).  The more pro active you are in informing others the better.  Smith & Williamson took prompt action when they discovered the clone and the fake websites were blocked.

Communication is always key when it comes to fraud prevention.

For regular readers of our blogs, it will come as no surprise that the next bit of advice is to keep your staff informed and aware so that they too can spot fake companies and alert the relevant people/ bodies. 

Above all, never assume it won’t happen to you!  If you have any form of online presence (and let’s face it, most companies do) you vulnerable.  It is very easy for a fraudster to create a fake webpage and contact people.  If your company data is not secure they can even steal your customer data and contact them directly to trick them into making payments. 

Be vigilant, stay aware, and beware of the clones!

Our fraud prevention team are always on the look out for the threats to businesses and advising them on how to reduce their risk.  If you have any questions please do get in touch.

Read the full ICAEW article here.