Small businesses targeted by Corporate Portal invoicing scam
Posted on 4-Aug-2015 09:47
Filed under: News
The Commerce Commission is warning New Zealand small business owners of an invoicing scam undertaken through the post by a German company which operates a website called Corporate Portal New Zealand.
Business owners have been approached to update their business details with the Corporate Portal and have reported being misled into entering an ongoing subscription contract. The Corporate Portal is purported to be a business of ‘TVV Tele Verzeichnis Verlag GmbH’. Its letters state that it is based at ‘Borsteler Chaussee 85-99 a, D-22453 Hamburg, Germany. Small New Zealand business owners have been asked to return further details of their business by filling in a form and sending it back to the trader in the self-addressed envelope provided.
Kate Morrison, the Commission’s General Manager of Competition said, “We have received a number of complaints about the Corporate Portal and similar scams. It is a priority for us to protect consumers from scams. In this case, business owners have been sent formal looking letters with the letterhead ‘New Zealand – Companies.’ This has led some of them to believe they are obligated to provide their details for the New Zealand Companies Office.”
The letter urges businesses to complete their basic details by a deadline date or they will be removed from the Corporate Portal website. It gives businesses the option of including more information by filling in an attached form and returning it to the Corporate Portal address in Germany.
Ms Morrison said, “The letter gives business owners the impression the ‘service’ is free, that the business is already listed and that their details need updating. In reality, filling out the form and posting back their business details signs them up to a $1,411 annual subscription to a basic online directory, for at least three years.”
Once this form has been sent and the business is signed up, the terms and conditions make it difficult to cancel, and the Corporate Portal says it reserves the right to increase the annual fee with no consultation.
“We recommend that all unsolicited correspondence of this nature is considered very carefully. If consumers are concerned about the authenticity of documents it always pays to do your due diligence first, including checking with the relevant government department if the letter looks like it is from them. It’s also important to remember that websites with ‘nz’ in the web domain are not necessarily based here,” said Ms Morrison.
Corporate Portal has previously targeted British and Australian small business owners and featured on scam alerts in New Zealand from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Department of Internal Affairs.
MBIE’ also lists a number of measures to protect small businesses from scams such as:
Limit the number of people in your business that have authority to make purchases or write orders
Keep written records of all orders and purchases
Reconcile all invoices against actual orders. Ask for proof of purchase and check with colleagues to make sure that you have received what you paid for
If an invoice seems to reference an advertisement or directory entry you genuinely made, make sure that all of the details add up. False billing scammers may use your real advertising as the basis for their fake invoices, e.g. company name, address and bank details
Deal only with people and companies you know and trust.