According to new data from the ACCC, in total, more than 3,000 small businesses contacted the commission between January and June 2020, with around two-thirds of those businesses reporting potential misconduct.
Overall, 1,200 scams were reported and while this is fewer reports than in the previous six-month period, losses increased threefold to $4.5 million.
“When people think of scam victims, they imagine vulnerable consumers, but scammers target small businesses, too, and they are re-inventing old payment scams with COVID-19 themes,” ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said.
COVID-19-related issues affecting small businesses saw the number of enquiries to the ACCC in the first half of this year increase by 42 per cent, compared with the previous six months.
“Around half of all the COVID-19-related contacts the ACCC received to the end of June came from small businesses in the travel, healthcare and medical supplies, fitness, and event management sectors,” Mr Keogh said.
“The impact of the pandemic on small businesses has been enormous, and we have re-prioritised our work and resources to help businesses and consumers work through many of the issues.”
Scams exploiting COVID-19
Small businesses have also reported scams exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic, with $185,000 in losses so far.
An example of a COVID-19-themed overpayment scam involved a restaurant that received an order for 100 takeaway meals to donate during the height of the pandemic.
The scammer advised they were unable to talk on the phone because they were in hospital awaiting surgery, so all communication was to be over email. The scammer wanted to pay by credit card and have the restaurant provide cash to the driver as they were unable to pay the driver personally.
After the restaurant owner provided the meals and the payment to the driver, they discovered that the credit card payment had been fake.
“Operating a small business is challenging enough in the good times, and given the current crisis that so many businesses are facing, it’s important they can easily access information about their protections and obligations under the Australian Consumer Law,” Mr Keogh said.
Australian businesses are encouraged to visit www.scamwatch.gov.au to learn more about scams targeting them and how to protect themselves. They can follow @scamwatch_gov on Twitter and subscribe to Scamwatch radar alerts.
“We will take action when we become aware of breaches of the Australian Consumer Law, especially when the conduct has the potential to result in widespread harm,” Mr Keogh said.
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