Business invoice scams on the rise – here's how to stay safe

Fraudsters are increasingly targeting businesses with fake invoices in order to scam them out of cash, data suggests.

One in seven small-to-medium sized firms in Britain has fallen victim to an invoice scam in the last 12 months, Barclays says.

With businesses likely to have numerous staff working in accounts along with a healthy bank balance, they are in the crosshairs of fraudsters.

Essentially, invoice scams attempt to trick companies into paying out on what looks like a legitimate bill addressed to them.

Ian Rand says fraudsters have become more sophisticated with invoice scams and many are fooled into paying them

Despite this, due to lack of time, only 19 per cent say they conduct invoice training for all staff to help them spot a fake invoice.

Often scam victims find it difficult retrieving the money or getting their banks to reverse the transaction as transfers are often conducted instantaneously. 

Banks have been hesitant to award refunds as they claim those who transferred the money to a fraudulent account acted negligently.

But banking fraud victims who lose cash to push payment scams may soon be able to get their money back if their bank subscribes to a new code this year, which has been published by the Authorised Push Payment Scams Steering Group.

This new rule could also pave the way for business owners to get their money back too. 

When asked if there are ways that SMEs can get their money back from the bank, a Barclays spokesperson responded: ‘We take each specific case of fraud or scam very seriously and will continue to look at customer issues on a case by case basis.

‘We are invested in helping people arm themselves with the knowledge and the tools to stop scams from happening in the first place, which is why we are issuing warnings like this.

‘We have no higher priority than the protection of our customers’ funds and have invested significantly in fraud and scam prevention initiatives. 

‘Alongside our prevention work we also help arm the public with information and tools to spot and stop fraud and scams, including major TV advertising.’

The spokesperson adds that once the scam is realised it is vital that it gets reported to the bank as soon as possible either by contacting the fraud department or visiting a local branch.

‘When a customer is tricked into paying their money to a criminal, the bank has no way of intervening in advance, and therefore we urge people to check payment details very carefully and to call the company in advance of large payments if they are in any doubt.’

Rand adds: ‘We want to arm businesses with as much information as possible on common scams so that they can avoid falling prey to fraudsters.

‘Our network of over 1,500 relationship managers are delivering advice clinics to SMEs across the country – arming them with valuable information on all aspects of business resilience, including digital safety.’ 

Six top tips to help businesses avoid invoice scams

To help businesses stay vigilant, Ian Rand warned against the dangers of invoice scams, issuing top tips to SMEs on how to stay safe:

1. New invoices should always be checked

Call the business on a trusted number on your company files and not that on the invoice or email to check the account details are accurate

Don’t assume an email, call or text is genuine – especially if something doesn’t look right or the payment details are different. 

Be on your guard – only 24 per cent of SMEs surveyed said they would call the supplier or partner they are dealing with to check that the request is legitimate.

2. Train staff to detect fake invoices

One in ten SME employees said that they would not know how to spot a fake invoice. Find out more about how to recognise scams and protect against them on the Barclays fraud advice website.

3. Check new bank details on invoices

Barclays advises having a clear procedure for making payments in your firm and get a second opinion. 

A third (33 per cent) of CEOs, founders or managing directors do not get oversight on invoices before they are approved. If you’re ever unsure about the invoice you are dealing with, it’s always best to get a second pair of eyes.

4. If you feel pressured or anxious, take your time and always ask for support

When asked how falling victim to an invoice scam impacted the business, sadly, 15 per cent said it had a significant impact on their mental health and 13 per cent said the experience had such a severe impact that the employee responsible left the business. 

A legitimate company will not mind waiting, especially if it avoids putting employees in an uncomfortable position.

5. Get help from your bank

Talk to your Barclays business team or relationship manager for guidance on how to recognise and protect against common scams.

6. Act swiftly

SMEs should get in touch immediately with Barclays via their business team or the direct call feature in their mobile banking app if they feel they have been the victim of a scam.