With the cost of living crisis putting a squeeze on everyone’s pockets, the incidence of online scams and frauds is, perhaps unsurprisingly, going through the roof.
According to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, more than three quarters of UK adults have been targeted by fraudsters in 2022 already, up 14% on last year.
Sadly, farms and farmers are not exempt from the scammers and there has been a rise in the number of online scams targeting farms across the year.
Many are the same as other people and businesses are facing, but there are some specific to farming that you need to watch out for. Here are the most common:
Invoice fraud is where scammers impersonate an invoice from a known supplier, but with different bank details. Often, this might be accompanied by an email explaining why the bank details have been changed, in case the recipient notices.
Brazen fraudsters might send the invoice directly to the farm, but there are also more sophisticated scammers who can actually intercept email invoices from suppliers, tweak the payment details, and then send them on. This is much harder to detect and recently led to one farm being tricked out of more than £8,000.
To avoid this type of fraud, it is imperative you keep a record of all your supplier’s bank account details and if they are changed in any way, speak to your supplier to confirm they are correct before paying the bill.
Farm subsidy fraud
Similar to the bank frauds that most people have been targeted by, farm subsidy fraud involves farmers receiving emails, texts, and phone calls from people purporting to be from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). The communications often link to fake websites designed to look like the RPA or the DEFRA website and ask the recipient to confirm their personal details or payment information.
These can be difficult for people to detect, especially for older farmers who are less tech savvy than their younger counterparts. The only advice we can give is to never give out personal details, bank information, or any other confidential information online. If you receive one of these communications, get in touch with the body who claims to have sent it and check if it is legitimate or not. Chances are it won’t be.
This is another scam that is becoming more common – machinery offered at low prices online or on social media. Buyer beware though, it may be stolen.
To avoid the chances of buying stolen machinery, remember the old adage, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Check the vendor is legitimate by ensuring they have an address, contact details and that you can view the machinery before you buy. Ensure there is a good reason why it is cheaper than market value and check all identifying features such as serial numbers and paperwork.
If you’re still suspicious, walk away. You’re far better off paying a little bit extra and having the peace of mind the police won’t be seizing your machinery any time soon.
Tax rebate scams
Everyone loves a tax rebate, which means it can be easy to believe you’re due one and overlook the prospect it is a scam. But very often, it will be. This is particularly the case in the wake of COVID-19, where scams link the rebate to the pandemic to make it look like you paid too much tax during this time.
The scams usually take the form of an email or text claiming to be from HMRC asking for personal details and directing people who receive it to imitation websites. It is an easy scam to fall prey to.
However, remember, HMRC will never contact you by email, text message, or social media offering a tax rebate. So if you receive any of these communications saying you’re due one, it’s false.
Although not exclusive to farm businesses, with the cost of living as high as it is, you never know when employees or even family members might be tempted to dip their hands into the till. Employee fraud is far more common than you might think and whereas you might feel family ties would prevent someone from theft, desperate times can lead to desperate behaviour.
We’re not saying watch your staff like a hawk, or start to suspect them when there is no evidence, but keep an eye on your bank account and look for any unexpected payments. It might be hard to find out someone is stealing from you, but it is better than not finding out.
Reporting a scam
If you feel like you might have been the victim of one of these scams, or any other type, the best thing you can do is go straight to the police and report it. Report it to your bank too and check if you are covered by your insurance.
It would then be a good idea to speak to your internet provider about increasing your security if it came by way of an email, so future phishing emails are blocked.