V4B Business Finance

How internet scammers can target your business

Businesses face a constant threat from online fraudsters.

Many internet scammers operate within highly organised criminal organisations based outside the UK. This typically makes it notoriously difficult to hunt them down, so they’re free to ply their criminal trade at will.

Companies have always been a lucrative source of income for swindlers, and as the digital landscape has progressed so have their methods of deception. Scammers today often combine modern technology with old cons, and it’s easy for them to adapt these ruses to target businesses.

Small companies with less sophisticated technology than major corporations are often seen by cyber crooks as a soft target, but all sizes and types of businesses can be vulnerable to scams, and losses to individual companies can be huge, even millions of pounds.

Fortunately, there are simple measures you can take to safeguard your business against online fraud.


Common online business scams

Fraudsters use a diverse range of internet scams to attack businesses. These include:


Tech support scam

Tech support scams begin with a phone call or an alert on a computer, claiming to be from a well-known company like Microsoft or your internet service provider. They tell you they’ve discovered a major security problem with your computer, and may show you “evidence” that your system has been hacked. They may then request a fee for fixing this non-existent issue. Worse still, the victim may be persuaded into allowing the criminals to access their computer via a system like TeamViewer.

Once inside your machine, they can wreak havoc by installing malware and ransomware, and stealing passwords and customer records and credit card information. You can stop a tech support fraudster in their tracks by ignoring an unexpected phone call or pop-up message on your computer from someone claiming there’s a problem with your computer.


Bank account takeover

A bank account takeover may be triggered by a tech support scam or other means of installing malicious software on your computer – via a fake email or website, for example. A typical ploy is to use a keystroke-logging system to discover passwords for online banking accounts and then make withdrawals.

You can help to protect your business against bank account takeover by monitoring your bank accounts daily to ensure no unauthorised electronic transfers are being made, and having a different, secure password for each of your bank accounts.



Confidence tricksters use phishing emails to dupe businesses into revealing confidential information like bank details, credit card numbers, and passwords. A link in the email will take you to a fake website designed to steal this information and thereby your money.

A phishing email may also be aimed at encrypting critical files on your system and then demanding payment to make your data accessible again. You can thwart phishing by not clicking on suspicious links or attachments in emails.


Advance-fee fraud

Businesses may be targeted by advance-fee scammers looking for a big return. This fraud originated in the form of letters in the mail but are now more likely to land in your email inbox. With this this type of fraud – including the Nigerian (419) scam and the Spanish Lottery scam – you’re asked to pay for financial gains, services or products you’ll never get.

Advance-fee scammers can easily be foiled by using common sense and simply ignoring them.


Directory scam

Hustlers running directory scams aim to get you to pay for an online business listing that is worthless, or the directory may not even exist. Some may have genuine company registration but others go to great lengths to conceal their identity.

Directory fraud can be avoided by checking out the directory company online by using a search term consisting of the name of the company followed by the word “scam”.


Covid-related scams

The Covid-19 crisis triggered a new wave of online deception, including fraudsters purporting to be business financers or tax officials.

In 2020, Action Fraud – the national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime – warned of:

  • Fake trading and investment advice urging people to take advantage of the Covid downturn.
  • Fraudsters claiming to be from HMRC offering tax refunds and directing people to a phoney website to harvest their personal and financial details.

These types of swindles were happening a long time before the recent pandemic, they’re continuing now, and they’re likely to be around for a long time to come.



The key to foiling fraudsters

The diversity and reach of online business scams make it’s essential to be constantly on the alert to protect your business.

Internet hustlers tend to use tried and tested methods, and being aware of these tactics greatly increases your chances of recognising attempted fraud before it can damage your business.

Further advice on business fraud protection is available from Action Fraud.

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