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AS a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, businesses across the UK were forced to make immediate changes to their ways of working due to the lockdown measures implemented by the government.

However, because these alterations had to be made so quickly, overnight in some cases, it meant that many companies may have been left vulnerable to civil fraud while they found their feet during the transition to homeworking.

Jon Roberts, partner and solicitor specialising in fraud and asset recovery at Nelsons, said: “There’s no doubting that the past five months have been unprecedented and affected every single business in some way, shape or form. When it comes to fraud, the main risks that will have arisen from the outbreak will be due to people being distracted or taking their eye off the normal safeguarding procedures they had in place before the pandemic struck.

“It’s never been more important to ensure you’re keeping an eye on all aspects of your business and know the warning signs to look out for so you don’t fall prey to civil fraud, as well as what to do should you think a crime has been, or is about to be, committed.”

How can I safeguard my business and my clients?

“While it’s true the past months have been extraordinary, the key to safeguarding yourself against fraud remains the same – be vigilant. Whether you’re dealing with money transactions online or starting to move back to working in person again, it’s of paramount importance that you remain completely aware of what you’re doing and what is happening within your business. This way, you’ll be able to spot if something doesn’t feel right or add up much more quickly.”

Are businesses at higher risk of being defrauded during the pandemic?

“Yes, and there are two reasons for this. The first is due to the risk that derives from changes to normal business practices when we all made the shift to working from home. This is likely to have led to breakdowns in systems intended to safeguard businesses, personal affairs and processes, which, in turn, could give fraudsters the opportunity to take advantage.  

“The second arises simply from the downturn in the economy. When times are desperate, people turn to desperate measures to see them through. Businesses have been forced to function differently, therefore fraudsters may be able to infiltrate them more easily.”

What can I do if I think my business has been defrauded?

“There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer for this as every fraud is different and varies in size and severity. However, essential first steps should be to close off any possibility of a repeat scenario, whether this means changing passwords and procedures or dismissing any employees who may have been involved. Next is to obtain a complete backup of any documents, be they physical or electronic, and set out a detailed timeline of events to provide clarity on the situation.

“It’s worth noting that if there are any identifiable individuals involved then you should approach the police immediately. If these individuals are likely to still be in possession of the funds they’ve stolen, you should proceed through the courts without delay to try and recover them.

“If required, you can pursue an injunction to freeze assets in the UK and worldwide and, if necessary, even an injunction permitting the equivalent of a civil search warrant to be issued over the defendant’s properties, documents and computers to be seized and searched.”

Have there been more frauds committed during the coronavirus pandemic?

“Unfortunately, as is the case with most civil fraud, the full extent of how many offences have been committed during this period will only become apparent sometime after the event as the cleverer the fraudster, the longer it takes to uncover. It’s therefore inevitable that there will be more frauds discovered over the next 12 months or so. Until then it’s impossible to say for sure whether the coronavirus pandemic has allowed for a surge in cases.” 

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