Watch out for this new Companies House business scam

Business owners are being targeted by a scam letter claiming to be from Companies House. Here’s how to spot and avoid it.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Entrepreneurs who have registered a business on Companies House are being urged to watch out for a new letter scam designed to steal their personal information.

Those who receive the letter are told to scan a QR “payment code” on the back of the page. They are then ordered to transfer payment, and given a deadline to send the money by.

The government is now warning business owners to stay alert to the scheme, and has published official guidance outlining what to do if you receive it.

How the payment code scam works

All entrepreneurs must provide a correspondence address when registering with Companies House. If they don’t have an office, many business owners will put their home address.

As this information is then published online for anyone to see, entrepreneurs are left vulnerable to receiving fraudulent letters. This new scam takes advantage of office addresses being publicly listed to send UK companies phishing letters directly.

Reddit user u/sticlebrick101 shared an example of what the letter can look like when it drops through your door. The version they received told them to pay £48 in the next seven days using an invented “payment code number”.

Failure to comply, they were told, would result in their “web filing benefits” being suspended.

Reddit user (1)

Image credit: u/sticlebrick101 shared in r/smallbusinessuk (https://www.reddit.com/r/smallbusinessuk/)

Scams like this can be convincing. At first-glance, the above notice looks like an official letter sent from Companies House. It even includes the ‘gov.uk’ domain name in the (made-up) contact email address.

However, closer inspection of the letter reveals a few tell-tale signs that it is a scam. Given the threatening contents, panic can set in and obscure some of these red flags which might seem obvious in less urgent situations.

1. You’re being told to send money

The letter is asking for payment to be sent. This should immediately raise suspicions as Companies House will never ask for payments or for you to disclose information.

2. There might be clear spelling mistakes

There are a number of laughable spelling and grammar mistakes littered throughout. In the top-right corner, the box says “u will be able to file by post”, while details is spelt “deatails”.

3. You’ve been given an immediate deadline

Scam artists will usually try to put time pressure on their victim by telling them to send money within a short timeframe (in this case, by the end of the week).

What to do if you receive a scam letter

Companies House scams are, unfortunately, common. As well as letters, scammers have been known to forward suspicious emails and place threatening phone calls to intimidate entrepreneurs into sending them money.

The government has published advice for entrepreneurs on what to do if you find yourself being contacted by a nefarious actor.

Even if you immediately spot it’s a scam, you should contact Companies House immediately on 0303 1234 500 to report it, as they might be able to warn entrepreneurs in your area. You can also report it to Action Fraud, a police-run fraud reporting centre.

If you have fallen victim to a scam and shared personal or payment details, don’t panic. Block all communication with the fraudster and contact your bank immediately to explain what’s happened. They should be able to stop unauthorised transactions from taking place.

Fraudsters rely on unsuspecting victims who panic pay. The best way to stay safe from Companies House scams is to keep calm and vigilant to increasingly sophisticated threats.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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