Scams aimed at businesses

Publishing scams

Although the majority of publishers are reputable and genuine there are an increasing number of rogue publishers who are targeting businesses. They persuade businesses to pay for advertising space in publications that do not exist or you do not get what you were promised.

The rogue publishers will make unsolicited phone calls to businesses, in particular small businesses and will use high pressure selling techniques to sell advertising space in wall planners, diaries, booklets produced for schools and colleges, emergency services magazines, crime prevention booklets etc. Very often they will say that it is being produced on behalf of a charity or will affiliate themselves to the police or another agency.

The cost of the advert can range from £100 to £1000 but once you have paid you will find that the publication does not exist or only a few copies are published. The rogue publishers will often only provide a PO Box address. They will also change the name of the businesses and move around the country.

Tips to prevent being caught out by a publishing scam:

  • If you receive an unsolicited telephone call from a publishing company do not agree to anything until you know who you are dealing with and what you actually get for your money. Remember a contract can be verbal, so stop and think before you agree.
  • Ask to see terms and conditions before agreeing to place an advertisement.
  • Read the small print of any contract carefully.
  • Before you agree to place an advert establish how many copies are being published, where they are being distributed, by what means and how you can get hold of a copy. If they claim it is being published for someone else i.e. a charity what proportion of the money is donated to charity?
  • If it is claimed that someone from your business has already verbally agreed to place an advertisement, ask for a copy of the tape recording if there is one.
  • If you feel that the caller is becoming abusive then put the phone down.
  • If you receive a demand for payment for an advert that you have not agreed to, reply to the letter stating why you do not owe any money.

For more advice on publishing scams information from Trading Standards Institute.

If you receive a phone call from a publisher and you suspect that it might be scam we would advise businesses to firmly but politely tell the caller that they are not interested in placing an advertisement in the publication.

Domain names

This scam is where businesses are cold called by domain name registration agents who pressurise the businesses into buying a domain name (a website address such as

The agents tell the businesses that a third party is interested in buying a domain name which is similar or the same as their name. The agent then states that the business has only a very short time to pay to register the domain name before the third party is able to. However, there is no evidence that the third party actually exists and in some circumstances the business has already registered the domain name.

Another variation of the domain name scam is when the cold caller tells the business that their domain name is about to expire and they have to pay immediately to make sure the domain name is still registered.

Businesses who receive unsolicited calls of this nature and are concerned that it may be a scam are advised to contact their internet service provider (ISP) or their own domain name registration agent. You can also find more information from Nominet UK, who are the national registry for .uk domain names.

We would advise all businesses to be wary of anyone who pressurises them to register a domain name.

Data protection registration

This scam has affected thousands of businesses. Businesses receive letters from bogus agencies asking them to pay up to £100 plus VAT to register under the Data Protection Act. The letters give the impression that they come from the Information Commissioner and that you are legally obliged to register with them. Although it is true that businesses who process personal data are required to notify the Information Commissioner, they can do so for a fee of £35 and many businesses are exempt. For further information please contact The Information Commissioner or call the helpline: 01625 545745.

Health and safety registration

Small firms are being targeted by bogus health and safety organisations who send letters to businesses advising them they have to pay up to £250 to register. All UK businesses have to register with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or local authority but this service is free of charge. If you need further advice please contact the HSE or 0845 345 0055 or call your local Environmental Health Service.

Internet dial up

This is a relatively new scam that affects internet users, in particular people who use a modem and are not a broadband user. While you are using the internet a pop-up box comes onto the screen. When you click on the box it disconnects your internet connection and replaces it with one that dials a premium rate number or sometimes an international number. Consumers often do not know they have been scammed until they receive their phone bill which can be for hundreds of pounds depending on how long you were on the internet.

If you have been affected by this scam or you notice a premium rate number on your phone bill relating to internet use you can contact the premium rate regulator ICSTIS on telephone 0800 500212.

To avoid becoming a victim of a dial up or internet scam you may want to consider the following:

  • consider barring premium rate numbers (contact your service provider for more advice)
  • install anti-virus software or firewalls onto your computer
  • check your privacy and security settings on your computer
  • don’t open e-mails or attachments that you do not recognise

Phishing/ spam e-mails

Phishing is when you receive a spam e-mail sent by someone who is pretending to be from your bank, building society or credit card company.  The e-mails will ask you to verify your personal details, account number, pin number and passwords.  It will often say this is to prevent fraud or to up-date bank records.  The e-mails look genuine and have all the correct logos.  It is easy to be fooled into thinking that the e-mail has come from your bank. A number of UK major banks have been affected by “phishing”. 

Be warned that if you respond to the e-mail you may lose money from your bank account or you may be victim of identity theft!!

Bank Safe Online Logo

To find out more about phishing and how to avoid it visit the banking industry advice website for safer on-line banking.

Business directories / European City Guide another scam aimed at businesses is where you receive an invoice or letter from a trade directory asking you for your business details such as your telephone number, fax number and e-mail. The invoice or letter appears at first to be offering the businesses free listing in a business directory but in the very small print at the bottom it reveals that you will have to pay for entry to the directory which can amount to hundreds of pounds.  When you reply to the invoice it is claimed that you have entered into a contract for an entry into a directory.  The problem is that you may not know if the directory actually exists or if it does it may not be distributed to many people.

An example of this type of scam is the European City Guide. The European City Guide is based in Spain and in September 2003 a Catalan court ruled that European City Guide was to be temporarily shut down for one year and fined a substantial amount. However, they are now back trading. They send letters to businesses asking them to complete tick boxes on a form of the type of activities the business is involved in. It claims that the details provided will be put onto a CD Rom. However, in the small print at the bottom of the page it states that by signing the form you agree to pay 937 Euros each year for three years.

We would advise businesses to ignore the letter and any similar letters from other Business Directories. Please read the small print very carefully before replying or signing any letters or faxes. You could be tied into a contract for something you do not want and it could cost you a lot of money.

Business rates

If you are a business you may be contacted by someone offering to reduce your business rates. Be warned there are bogus “rate reduction” firms who are targeting small businesses. In return for a large fee they claim that they can get your rates reduced. In reality the fee you pay you will be higher than the actual reduction and there is no guarantee of success. For more information on business rates visit the Valuation Office Agency website.

Premium rate fax scam

The Premium Rate fax scam is where you receive a fax which tells you that they will continue to send faxes unless you telephone or fax them back on a 0906  fax number. The number is a premium rate number and could cost you £1.50 a minute and may last for several minutes.

The Fax Preference Service (FPS) provides a free service to stop unsolicited direct marketing faxes. Register with the FSP or telephone 0845 070 0702. It will be illegal for anyone to send you unsolicited faxes once you have registered.