Small businesses across the UK are being targeted by a new wave of identity theft crimes, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has warned.
Identity theft is spreading to small businesses
Fraudsters are hijacking the identity of these victims via the Companies House registry of company names.
FSB members have been getting calls from fraudsters posing as Companies House officials and probing for crucial computer passwords.
The average ID fraud costs each company £2m, the Metropolitan Police estimate.
So far in 2006, the police officers stationed at Companies House have received 121 referrals of possible company filing fraud, following 205 referrals between April and December 2005.
David Waterman, director of I Waterman, a boxmaker in the East End of London, was targeted by a man masquerading as a Companies House official.
"The caller said he was checking a couple of small errors on a company form," Mr Waterman recalled.
As the call progressed the caller probed for more details of Mr Waterman's business arousing his suspicions. When Mr Waterman challenged the man to prove his identity he rang off.
Companies House said its staff would never contact firms by phone to ask for the WebFiling codes.
"Should anyone contact you claiming to be from Companies House please try to obtain a return telephone number and contact Companies House immediately," it said in a statement.
The object of the fraudsters is to re-register a legitimate business and then use its identity to gain credit.
Companies that fall victim to this fraud often have to go to court to regain their business identity, incurring legal fees on top of other losses.
The FSB represents companies with fewer than 250 staff, and many members have just four employees. So a busy manager is often caught unawares by fraudulent callers.