Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Shysters Are On The March!

Do you spot frauds easily? Perhaps you've never been targeted. In fact you probably have but unconsciously turned it aside.
By now we all have seen those emails from Nigerian nobility offering a fat commission. We have all seen scam ('scam' not 'spam') emails just checking on the details on a Bank account you didn't know you had. Other approaches run close to the wire and while not being (maybe) out and out fraud definitely have elements that it is ill advised for you to respond to or take up in any way.
My background is in Banking which has earned itself an unenviable reputation in the public consciousness since I left the corporate environment and took up a consultancy role. Some of it I have been appalled at, some of it disgusted, and some of it resigned to as the way of the modern world. Whatever the case, they don't ask me about it first and I have to rail at it or deal with the modern systematic processes the same as anyone else.
What it did do for me though is imbue a sense of awareness about fraudulent scams. I saw some clever ones in my career and had to marvel at the sheer effrontery of the perpetrators.
I have been approached with several things in the last year or two where I have smelt a rat so to speak. Because Bob Shepherd Associates  deals with company investment and development finance as well as building businesses more generally, I see propositions wanting to raise finance perhaps more than some. What is it I pick up? Could it be a slight discord in the story? It's very hard to construct a false story that is perfect. Is there maybe a slight behavioural anomaly. A year or two ago I had an email from my new client from a different email address with a similar name, quickly followed by an explanation that one of the staff had composed it and sent it on my client's behalf. As the only dull note so far in the relationship I parked that explanation but went back to it shortly later when another discord occurred and I was looking for clues.
In another example I have seen a set of papers, business plans and other material purporting to come from someone whose co director had qualifications as an international banker. Sorry! Not good enough then!
On one occasion, I was paid a substantial amount in cash (that's okay in itself) and I knew the business had a large cash income, so okay. I accounted for it in my books and actually paid it into the Bank though I didn't need to do so, as it was more than I needed in cash. Some 2 years later the police rang me for details as the Director had issued a cheque (in the books in my name) for a similar amount and paid it to his wife's account, thereby double counting, skipping the taxes and abstracting money from the company. When I looked it all up and remembered the circumstances the police were delighted to have a hunch pay off. Bingo! They knew something was wrong but couldn't put a finger on it until they found my legitimate transaction had been hijacked.
The temptation is always there for the fraudster to make things bigger than needs be. If it's that good why are we do we need what we have in mind now? By the same token why would a provincially based consultant need to be involved? Because I am the best in the UK? (Of course!)
Sometimes it is all very subtle but usually you have a small nagging reservation or two at the back of your mind. Don't ignore it and never apologise for demanding corroboration. The temptation for the small business is to go with it as the promise of business is good.
So what are the Answers? Get paid up front, or at least enough deposit so that you are only down on time and dignity if it goes wrong. Always follow up the anomalies and require explanations. Check credit records if you can. Check on line with a search (and if there is nothing there at all, check why that might be reasonable). Ask for identification (passport/driving licence?) and photocopy it for your file.
The penalties are there if you are not careful. Damage to reputation of course, loss of income or expected income, costs in resources, but also possible infringement of money laundering rules or  investigation by authorities for your involvement.
Keep on the watch. Shysters are on the march!

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