Brexit drives cybercrime hike

UK businesses have been warned that Brexit has the potential to see a rise in the threat of cyberattacks.

New data from Barclays revealed that there has been a 20 per cent surge in business scams in the past five months, with thousands of SMEs across the UK falling victim to highly sophisticated and targeted scam tactics.

Barclays is issuing a warning to businesses across the UK to remain vigilant as the end of the Brexit transition period approaches, with criminals looking to capitalise on the changes and trick businesses out of money.

The bank has seen an uptick in the number and cost of scams to small businesses, as fraudsters have already taken advantage of the uncertainty presented by coronavirus this year.

Jim Winters, Barclays Head of Fraud, said: “Many businesses across the UK are busy preparing ahead of the Brexit transition deadline. However, they need to be on their guard as fraudsters will often ramp up their efforts during uncertain periods. Business owners, perhaps not used to the new rules following our departure from the EU, may find it more difficult to differentiate between genuine and fake claims.

“It’s important that business owners and their staff are aware of the different type of scams that can occur and if they’re ever in doubt, they should always double check with their bank or a source they know is genuine.”

Of the tactics employed by criminals since January, impersonation scams were the most common this year (42 per cent), with an increase of more than half over the past five months (79 per cent).

Impersonation scams involve con artists pretending to be genuine organisations or authorities, in order to gain personal or banking information from unsuspecting victims. For example, a fraudster may pretend to be a telephone or internet provider to try and gain access to a victim’s computer, or even act as a bank manager, convincing their targets to divulge sensitive information.

The second most common type of scams were purchase scams (25 per cent), in which scammers trick victims into purchasing non-existent products through a website that they believe is genuine, such as PPE or office supplies.

Whilst invoice and mandate scams (18 per cent) were the third most common type of scam, they drove the second highest total value of losses, with an average loss of £7,300. These scams happen when criminals send emails impersonating known suppliers with requests to ‘update’ their bank details, sometimes intercepting genuine email conversations. The business is then conned into transferring often large sums of money into a scammer’s bank account.

The bank said it is urging SMEs to stay alert and is running a series of online Brexit clinics throughout December to help businesses deal with the new rules that will come into effect from 1st January 2021. The clinics will help SMEs prepare as the end of the period fast approaches, offering guidance on a number of areas such as fraud prevention, managing cash flow, exporting goods abroad, and managing supply chains.