LEGAL Fending off fraudsters during Covid-19

As a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, businesses across the UK were forced to make immediate changes to their ways of working due to the lockdown measures implemented by the Government. However, because these

alterations had to be made so quickly – overnight in some cases – it meant that many companies may have been left vulnerable to civil fraud while they found their feet during the transition to homeworking. Jon Roberts, partner and

solicitor specialising in fraud and asset recovery at Nelsons, says the main risks have arisen from people being distracted and taking their eye off the normal safeguarding procedures they had in place before the pandemic struck. “It’s never been more important

to ensure you’re keeping an eye on all aspects of your business and know the warning signs to look out for so you don’t fall prey to civil fraud, as well as what to do should you think a crime has been – or is about to be – committed,” he says. Jon speaks to Business Network

about how businesses can operate with the necessary caution to stay safe against fraudsters.

Jon Roberts, of Nelsons

How can businesses safeguard themselves and clients? While it’s true the past few months have been extraordinary, the key to safeguarding yourself against fraud remains the same – be vigilant. Whether you’re dealing with

money transactions online or starting to move back to working in person again, it’s of paramount importance that you remain completely aware of what you’re doing and what is happening within your business. This way, you’ll be able to spot if

something doesn’t feel right or add up much more quickly.

Raising the bar for pub health and safety

By Lynn Collins (pictured), head of HR services at Spencers Employment Solutions

The hospitality industry is no different to any other when it comes to health and safety responsibilities. In fact, you could argue it is all the more important to keep an eye on

these procedures, particularly where many people on site are likely to be under the influence of alcohol. Getting it right before involves planning, understanding and

assessing the potential risks in the workplace, taking measures to reduce risks where possible, and consulting staff. Here are some key responsibilities licensed premises need to get in

place to ensure the safety of staff and customers: • Provide a safe workplace • Write a safety policy • Train staff • Provide safe systems of work • Maintain entrance and exit routes • Maintain safety of work equipment • Control the use of hazardous chemicals • Consider the safety of all persons coming into your premises In addition, consideration of how staff are getting to and from work,

where they store their personal belongings, and where they will get changed and wash their uniforms, if applicable. Staff could be encouraged to change on site, but only where social

distancing is achievable. As a bare minimum, the latest government guidance on sector-

specific safety measures should be followed – providing handwashing facilities or hand sanitiser for both staff and customers. Where food and drink is being served, provision of face masks, gloves and aprons, if needed, is essential.

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Are businesses at higher risk of being defrauded during the pandemic? Yes, and there are two reasons for this. The first is due to the risk that derives from changes to normal business practices when we made the shift to working from home. This is likely to have led to

breakdowns in systems intended to safeguard businesses, personal affairs and processes – which, in turn, could give fraudsters the opportunity to take advantage. The second arises simply from

the downturn in the economy. When times are desperate, people turn to desperate measures to see them through. Businesses have been forced to function differently, and therefore fraudsters may be able to infiltrate them more easily.

What can people do if they think their business has been defrauded? There isn’t a “one size fits all” answer as every fraud is different and varies in size and severity. However, essential first steps should be to stop any possibility of a repeat – whether this means changing passwords and procedures, or dismissing employees who may have been involved. Next is to obtain a complete

backup of any documents, be they physical or electronic, and set out a detailed timeline of events to provide clarity on the situation. It’s worth noting that if there are

any identifiable individuals involved then you should approach the police immediately. If they are likely to still be in possession of the stolen funds, you should proceed through the courts without delay to try and recover them. If required, you can pursue an

injunction to freeze assets in the UK and worldwide and even an injunction permitting the equivalent of a civil search warrant to be issued over the defendant’s properties, documents and computers – which can be seized and searched.

Have there been more frauds committed during the pandemic? Unfortunately the full extent of how many offences have been committed will only become apparent sometime after the event as the cleverer the fraudster, the longer it takes to uncover. It’s therefore inevitable that

more frauds will be discovered over the next 12 months or so. Until then, it’s impossible to say whether the coronavirus pandemic has allowed for a surge in cases.

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