Small businesses, according to a new survey by YouGov for Barclays Business Banking, are being targeted more and more by fraudsters trying to extract hard-earned cash from entrepreneurs. The research says that 44% of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been targeted by criminals and almost one in four had fallen victim to fraud. This online crime also includes cyber attacks. Once upon a time, these were only the stuff of Hollywood spy movies, but scarily they are no longer confined to the big screen and are more likely than someone leaning across the counter to grab money from the till. According to this survey 10.6% of all SMEs questioned had suffered a cyber attack, with almost 9% of those making staff redundant to cover the cost of cybercrime. And it’s here that things get very real. Based on the fact that there are almost 5.7m small businesses in the UK, a rough calculation reveals that more than 50,000 people have lost their jobs due to the click of a mouse from geeky crooks. In terms of pounds, shillings and pence, the average cost of fraud to a business was £35,000, which means, based on the same quick maths, the total could be an eye-watering cost of £40bn to the UK SME business community. These frauds range from the sublime to the ridiculous but are obviously hitting their mark enough to cause serious damage to business owners. I’m sure I am not the only one who receives strange invoices on emails that are fake but could easily be processed by a busy department as legitimate. While some fakes are downright obvious – a quick check of the sending email address usually does the trick – some are more devious. I’ve heard tales of fraudsters intercepting emails with genuine invoices and sending them again with different payment details to grab the cash. For all the benefits of technology, it’s things like this that really shake people to the core and make them want to dig out the old ledger book and paper invoicing. While running a SME business is exceptionally rewarding, any realistic entrepreneur will also be honest and say it isn’t always sunshine and flowers either. Part of the enjoyment does come from the hard graft and overcoming obstacles. However, when those obstacles are put in the way by people who can only be described as criminals, it really does make the blood boil. While what the fraudsters are doing is obviously illegal, it also has a wider impact. As the survey said, it costs jobs, but it also stops other investments in things like training or capital investments in kit and equipment. This, of course, has implications on local and national economies. Therefore, the punishment should fit the crime. These criminals are the modern-day blaggers who have turned in their sawn-off shotguns for software, and the authorities must make sure they treat them with similar regard. Otherwise, they will be left to squeeze the life out of small firms by cutting off, diverting and stealing their income, which will have significant repercussions on their ability to do business and the contribution they can make to the economy.
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