Farms continue to be targeted by fraudsters through phone scams and fake invoices, warns Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK).

Five farm businesses in Selby, Yorkshire, were conned out of tens of thousands of pounds each by a criminal gang impersonating a bank’s anti-fraud team, said FFA UK, which co-ordinates fraud prevention for banks and card companies.

See also: Bank scam fraudsters target Scottish farms

Fraudsters telephoned the farmers and claimed that scammers were trying to cash cheques in their names. The farmers were told to move money into another account for safety, but these accounts were controlled by the gang.

With farm businesses among those most at risk from phone banking fraud, FFA UK advised anyone receiving cold calls to be suspicious and to ask for lots of information.

“It’s a terrible scam and lots of very sensible people have fallen for it,” said a spokesman for FFA UK. He advised that anyone with suspicions of a scam should call their regular contact at the bank or other finance company on the usual switchboard number. It was also important to act quickly as money obtained fraudulently was usually moved very quickly, often abroad.

Phone fraud – how the scam works

Criminals research businesses and then telephone them armed with information which makes their approach sound more credible, said FFA UK. They will then lure the company owner or employee into revealing key financial information or convince them to transfer money into a different account under a false pretence – such as to help prevent fraud identified on their bank account.

The criminal may pretend to be from a bank or law enforcement agency. The trick is often successful because criminals ask their victim to hang up and call back on a number they trust, while the criminal simply keeps the line open. Then, unknowingly, the victim finds themselves talking to an accomplice of the criminal on the same line.

Be suspicious if you get a cold call and are asked a lot of questions relating to your company’s financial information, warns FFA UK. There is no legitimate reason for the police or your bank to ask for your four-digit PIN, or to ask that you transfer or withdraw money, or give your card to a courier for them to collect. If you are asked to do any of these things, someone is trying to con you.

If in doubt, call back the organisation on a number you trust but do it on another phone or leave it five minutes. This is important because criminals are able to keep the line open for two minutes after you put down the phone, which means you could end up inadvertently talking to the criminal or their accomplice again.

How to combat phone scams

  • Do not assume a caller is genuine because they have details about you or your business, or because they claim to represent a legitimate organisation
  • If you are suspicious, refuse to provide information, end the call
  • It takes two people to terminate a call – fraudsters can keep your phone line open by not putting down the phone at their end, so call from another number or leave a five-minute gap between ending the call and making the next one
  • Do not trust caller ID displays – these can be manipulated to disguise the real origin of call
  • Call your existing contact at your bank or other finance organisation and check whether they have been trying to contact you
  • If you do suspect money has been obtained from you fraudulently, contact your bank immediately – fraudsters move money very quickly, often out of the country.

Invoice fraud – check twice, or pay the price – FFA UK advice

Invoice fraud happens when a fraudster tricks an organisation into changing the bank account payee details for a payment.

Fraudsters pretend to be a regular supplier of the organisation and inform them of a change of bank account details.

As funds are often transferred quickly, this makes the recovery of the money difficult. Often the fraudulent payment is only discovered when a legitimate supplier chases for non-payment.

  • Look out for requests to change payee account details for a regular payment already set up with a supplier, particularly if the request is for an immediate payment.
  • Take time to consider if a request to alter bank details or transfer money was expected or if it was received out of the blue from an existing supplier.
  • Always verify requests to change bank details or set up new payment instructions by contacting the supplier directly.
  • Use established contact details before implementing changes.
  • Reconcile accounts regularly to help identify potential fraudulent transactions quickly.
  • Carefully check invoices and requests to change bank details. Does the document look genuine? Be vigilant for amendments to contact numbers and email address on company invoices – these may be so minor that they are difficult to spot, for example a previous email address may have read .org and now reads .com.

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