Is small business fraud overlooked?

October 19, 2015 by Shelleyanne Rein

Small Business Fraud

small business fraudWhen you hear the word “fraud” it’s unlikely that small business fraud comes to mind. However, in terms of potential losses, business identity theft could be considered as big if not a larger threat than consumer identity theft. Just like consumers, businesses face a broad- range of first- and third-party fraud behaviors, varying significantly in frequency, severity and complexity. Small businesses are especially vulnerable, because they typically do not have the layers of security and oversight, an alert accounting or I.T. department, or the sophisticated security technology that larger businesses may have. Over $8 billion is lost or stolen from small businesses each year and 60% of businesses who suffer business identity fraud close their doors within one year.

A first-party, or victim-less, fraud profile is characterized by having some form of material misrepresentation (for example, manipulation or falsification of business filings and records) by the business owner without that owner’s intent or immediate capacity to pay the loan item. Historically, during periods of economic downturn or misfortune, this type of fraud is more common. This intuitively makes sense — individuals under extreme financial pressure are more likely to resort to desperate measures, such as misstating financial information on an application to obtain credit.

Third-party commercial fraud occurs when a third party steals the identification details of a known business or business owner in order to open credit in the business victim’s name. With creditors becoming more stringent with credit-granting policies on new accounts, we’re seeing seasoned fraudsters shift their focus on taking over existing business or business owner identities.

The rising trend of commercial fraud is illustrated by several key reasons including:

  • One of the most common reasons for this is that commercial fraud doesn’t receive the same amount of attention as consumer fraud. Thus, it’s become easier for fraudsters to slip under the radar by perpetrating their crimes through the commercial channel.
  • Keep in mind that businesses are often not seen as victims in the same way that consumers are. For example, victimized businesses aren’t afforded the protections that consumers receive under identity theft laws, such as access to credit information.
  • Another factor is that most businesses are eager to open a new account for a business, after all businesses spend more than consumers. In some cases, opening a new business account can be even easier than opening a new consumer account. Business also have higher credit limits and the invoicing and payment terms allows identity thieves the opportunity to receive products and services without early detection.
  • Finally, it is much easier to get information on a business versus a consumer. Unlike the protections provided to consumers to protect their identity, their credit information much of a business’s information is public record. Armed with the just a business name, address and EIN (employer identification number) fraudulent accounts can be opened and the game of theft begins.

These factors, coupled with the fact that business-to-business fraud is approximately three-to-ten times more “profitable” per occurrence than consumer fraud, play a role in leading fraudsters increasingly toward commercial fraud.

To learn more about how to protect your business view our interactive Fraud e-book.