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Scam warning! Australian importers beware

by Tim Smith | Oct 18, 2017
  • Personally, I don't entertain cold calls. How can you tell the genuine from the fake? Especially when the fake are often good at sounding genuine. This makes it tough in an industry like foreign exchange brokerage, where most of my competitors can ring dozens of businesses they've found on Google before I've taken my first sip of drink at a networking event. Perhaps I'm old school, but I do like to know who I'm dealing with.

    Over the last few years, in addition to scam cold calls, we've also seen (once clumsy) email scams become far more sophisticated. Some look reasonably genuine to the point where, like cold calls, how can you tell the genuine from the fake? Is it truly Microsoft ringing to tell you of a computer virus? Or the taxation office ringing to advise you of a fine that needs to be paid? Did your boss really email you requesting you to transfer funds immediately? Is the email bill from your energy or phone company genuine? Who knows? Each of the above are common attempts to scam people, businesses and organisations.

    A regular visit to the ACCC's scamwatch website is worthwhile, not only for individuals and businesses in Australia, but people and organisations across the globe. A quick mouse scroll across the heading 'Types of scams' reveals a list of scam categories, including sub-categories within each, that help highlight the epidemic we find ourselves in.

    In international trade, there is a growing scam destroying importers which also impacts on the businesses that deal with them whether they are their supplier (often an overseas exporter), their logistics company, or any person who considers the importer their client. If the importer loses a large amount of money and needs to cease trading, everyone loses a client, some of which over time have become more than just clients.

    The current scam smashing importers has been given the title "Payment Redirection Scam". Here is a rundown of how importers are getting the shirts ripped off their backs, and also off their children's backs if they lose their business as a result.

    An unsuspecting importer receives an email from their supplier advising that they have changed their bank account details along with new instructions. Some choose to accept this and proceed to make payment, others may email their supplier for confirmation – a small exchange of emails to make them comfortable - and they proceed to make payment. 

    Some days later the importer starts wondering where their goods are, often giving a couple of days longer for the freight to arrive before eventually emailing their supplier when it doesn't. The reply is along the lines of ‘What are you talking about?’ We're still waiting for payment’. Money toasted, you've just sent your hard-earned money to a scammer.

    The scammers are often live in the supplier’s computer. They can access outstanding invoices and know who to target, write emails from a genuine email address, correspond in a timely manner, all the while deleting evidence so the supplier is none the wiser.

    From the scammer’s point of view, this is a great system. They can send thousands of emails trying to get $100 or $200 for a fake energy or phone bill, or they can try to get $10,000-$100,000 or more from one importer. If enough single sources fall for this scam - do the math, it's quite lucrative. Not only that, there is a time delay playing in the scammer's favour. How many importers can they hit in a week or two before detection and they can disappear? 

    My fear for Australian and international businesses is that this scam is on the rise, as more and more scammers see it as a golden goose. It has got to the point where I've noticed some overseas manufacturers have changed their invoices to include the statement ‘we have not changed our bank account details’. Australian exporters may want to consider including a similar note and making their clients aware of this scam to help protect them. I would go a step further and advise them that you will only advise them of such changes via Skype or similar.

    When I worked at a major bank, we often questioned the safety of dealing with brokers for foreign exchange transfers with our clients, but that was a different time. In light of this current scam I now question the safety of sending money directly online, through a local teller or customer service officer.

    If an importer had spoken to a foreign exchange specialist like me before making changes to their beneficiary details, they could have made the importer aware of this scam, something an online service or local bank officer probably wouldn't do. I would have advised them, as I have in these instances previously, to contact their supplier via phone or skype for confirmation, not email.

    Whether you're an importer or exporter I would suggest it is imperative to have a foreign exchange relationship to make you aware of such scams when they arise. If you are large enough to have a foreign exchange relationship with a major bank, congratulations, if not, you might want to consider a broker to ensure you are kept up to date. I will point out having these relationships in place is not an instant guarantee of market knowledge and intelligence being passed on to you. Every person's idea of customer service is different regardless of industry. 

    If you already have a foreign exchange relationship and this is the first you are hearing of this scam, you have to ask yourself (and your current foreign exchange provider) this question, why?

    The most important thing is that Australian and international businesses are aware of this scam so they can take the necessary measures to protect their businesses. Please share this article and information with anyone you know who has international trade dealings, your networks and connections as my reach can only go so far.

    If you have any questions about this new scam or anything else related to forex, feel free to email me on or give us a call on +613 (0) 8651 4500.

    We are a professional services company that specialises in cross-border financial and immigration advice and solutions.

    Our teams in the UK, South Africa and Australia can ensure that when you decide to move overseas, invest offshore or expand your business internationally, you’ll do so with the backing of experienced local experts.

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