Small businesses struggling to spot scams

Criminals stole £42.6 million from businesses through authorised push payment (APP) fraud in the first six months of 2023. Nearly 1 in 5 could not always spot the scams in Take Five to Stop Fraud’s quiz. 1 in 10 didn’t recognise a procurement scam.

New data* from Take Five to Stop Fraud’s ‘Can you spot fraud?’ quiz for small business owners shows nearly one in five (17%) participants could not always spot a scam. The data comes from results of the quiz, designed with Amazon to help businesses, particularly small and medium sized enterprises, stay safe from fraud.

Over 7,000 respondents have taken the quiz since it launched last year. Recreating a busy office environment, it takes users through a series of potentially fraudulent situations.

The results show that some types of scams, such as impersonation scams (where a criminal pretends to be a trusted organisation or person), were front of mind. However, procurement scams (where you are deceived into appointing a new supplier without going through normal procurement processes, resulting in financial loss) were harder to spot. One in ten people who took the quiz weren’t able to recognise a procurement scam.

The data follows recent figures from UK Finance revealing that criminals stole £42.6 million from businesses through such scams known as authorised push payment (APP) fraud in the first six months of 2023. This is where the fraudster tricks their victim into sending money directly from their account to one which the criminal controls.

Businesses are often a target for criminals as their accounts generally hold more money than the average consumer. Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) can be more at risk than other businesses as they may have fewer protective measures to detect fraud and less regular training on the issue.

The quiz helps employers and employees confidently challenge situations where criminals may be targeting their business. It aims to give people the knowledge and ability to spot real-world scam calls, texts, emails and social media posts.

The impact of fraud and scams on businesses can be detrimental. Many struggle to recover from the severe financial and reputational damage it can cause.

Other common ways criminals target businesses are through CEO scams and invoice and mandate scams. Invoice and mandate scams occur when criminals pose as regular suppliers and convince you to change their existing bank account details. In a CEO scam, criminals impersonate your boss or a senior manager to convince you to make an urgent payment outside of your business’s internal procedure.

Paul Maskall, Fraud and Cybercrime Prevention Manager at the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit said

We can see that businesses are increasingly alive to scams. But criminals are also increasingly sophisticated in targeting them. It’s imperative that businesses keep their guard up. We’re encouraging SMEs to reflect on their internal training, culture and policies, and to follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign: take a moment to stop and think as it could keep your business safe.

David Raw, Managing Director, Commercial Finance at UK Finance said:

Fraud can be devastating for firms – especially small businesses, the lifeblood of the UK economy. As criminals develop more and more complex ways to break through businesses’ defences, many smaller firms often just don’t have the same security resources as their bigger counterparts. That means they need to be hyper-vigilant.

“If you own or work for a small business, remember: when you’re making bigger payments, always check the details with your supplier directly through trusted contact routes. You can also do our Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign quiz to get more advice and arm yourself with knowledge for the fight against fraud.

Take Five to Stop Fraud is urging businesses to take the quiz to help protect themselves from fraud and scams and to follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign: 

  • Stop: If you receive a request to make an urgent payment, change supplier bank details or provide financial information, take a moment to stop and think.
  • Challenge: Could it be fake? Verify payments and supplier details directly with the company on a known phone number or in person first.
  • Protect: Contact your business’s bank immediately if you think you’ve been scammed and report it to Action Fraud.
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Notes to editor

*Based on 7,909 completed quizzes between 7 November 2022 and 18 October 2023. When tested on 7 different scams, 17% didn’t correctly identify all of them as scams.

  1. Access the ‘Can you spot fraud?’ quiz at:
  3. This product targets SMEs in the UK. While content will be designed to appeal to a broad range of SMEs, our focus is on those with between 0-49 employees who lack the more formal structures to tackle fraud – this segment equates to 5.9 million businesses, many of which may be already working with Amazon or could have the potential to sell through Amazon. We want to talk directly to business owners and senior leaders within these SMEs.