Scammers may send official looking invoices, letters or emails to give the impression that they are from a government department, or falsely imply or claim authority to act. For example, they may advise that you must pay a fee to register to comply with certain legislation, pay a fine for breaches of the law, or give bank details to claim a tax rebate.
Scammers will often seek to exploit a lack of knowledge about business regulations and procedures.
Small business owners have received emails supposedly sent from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), stating that they are owed a tax rebate. The emails ask for bank or credit card details so the money can be refunded.
Although these emails may contain the HMRC logo and other details, they are fake. HMRC may send you emails from time to time, but would never ask for your login, bank and credit card details.
Health and safety regulations fraud
Businesses have been cold called and offered services to enable them to comply with health and safety legal requirements. Some businesses have received letters demanding payment from businesses pretending to regulate health and safety. These usually suggest that if businesses do not register, they may face investigation.
The letters ask businesses to complete a questionnaire and send a fee, falsely implying that a failure to register could lead to a substantial fine or up to two years' imprisonment.
Food safety fraud
Food business operators have received bogus letters, apparently from the Food Standards Agency, demanding payment for supposed breaches of food safety regulations. Some of these letters demand payment of £1,000.
The Food Standards Agency is not the national enforcement authority for food law, and would not send any such letters demanding payment. Any breaches of food hygiene regulations would be dealt with by local authorities.
Data protection fraud
Fake Data Protection Act notification agencies may send letters to businesses, demanding money to register under the Data Protection Act. These bogus agencies give the impression that they are official and that you are under a legal obligation to register with them immediately.
While most businesses processing personal data are required by law to notify the Information Commissioner, they can do so directly and the fee is only £35, with no VAT payable.
You can find out whether or not your business is required to notify under the Data Protection Act on the Information Commissioner's self-assessment tool, or by calling the ICO Helpline on Tel 0303 123 1113.