Sole traders and small businesses are being warned to protect themselves against fraud, as new figures show the number of attacks in the UK is rising sharply.

According to watchdog Financial Fraud Action (FFA), there was a 53% increase in the number of fraud attempts in the first half of 2016, with the total number of incidents exceeding 1 million over the six-month period.

These figures follow a report earlier in the year from the Federation of Small Businesses, which found that two-thirds of Britain’s small firms had fallen victim to at least one cyber attack in the past two years.

FFA said that traders and businesses were, in particular, being targeted by criminals using what is known as invoice fraud; this involves conmen emailing or phoning an organisation impersonating an existing supplier. The aim is to get the business to change the actual supplier’s invoice details so that money can be diverted into the criminal’s own bank account.

Staying vigilant

Businesses and individuals are being warned to be more suspicious when they are contacted by people who claim to represent suppliers or bank staff, for example.

City of London Police Commissioner, Ian Dyson, said:

Fraud and cyber crime account for nearly half of all crime according to the British Crime Survey and this campaign is aimed at giving people the confidence to think before they act. Pausing for that short moment and asking ourselves, is this the safe thing to do, will go a long way to thwarting the fraudsters that prey on people’s trusting nature.

Freelancers, small businesses owners, and sole traders are more likely to be targeted for fraud for several reasons, according to Rob Hadfield, technical training director at Get Safe Online. Hadfield commented:

If you target individuals and get them to move money from their current account, chances are you’re only going to get a couple of thousand pounds on a good day. But with small businesses, current account balances are significantly higher: a firm could have a couple of million pounds in its account.

Another issue is that is easier for criminals to find contact details, such as phone numbers and direct email addresses for such businesses, as they are commonly publicised for marketing purposes.

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