The aim is to better protect businesses, professionals and NGOs across Europe from dishonest traders who do not play by the rules and use misleading marketing practices, such as sending out forms asking businesses to update details in their directories, seemingly for free, and then charging them annual fees. Small companies are particularly vulnerable to fraudsters, who are frequently operating from another jurisdiction within the EU. This makes enforcement difficult. The Commission therefore announced that it plans to beef up the existing legislation to explicitly ban practices such as concealing the commercial intent of a communication, while at the same time stepping up enforcement of the rules in cross-border cases.
“Only solid Europe-wide rules will enable us to crack down on scams targeting businesses and make sure the culprits cannot hide behind national borders. This is why we are presenting this comprehensive plan today,” said Vice-President Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. “The practices of misleading directory companies, fake invoices and similar scams must be stopped. Small enterprises are the backbone of the European economy and can ill afford losing money to swindlers. We are determined to improve the security of doing business in Europe.”
Every day EU-based businesses, professionals and civil society organisations fall victim to marketing scams. They range from providing false or misleading information about the service to sending offers disguised as invoices or misleading forms asking for updates in business directories. The figures reveal a new trend which can affect business worldwide. With the spread of mass-marketing techniques, the most notorious operators of misleading directories can reportedly send up to 6 million forms a year. The financial damage to individual companies that results from misleading directory scams is estimated to be between €1,000 and €5,000 per year for each company. The 23 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Europe represent 99 per cent of EU businesses and have created 85 per cent of net new jobs in the EU between 2002 and 2010. They are key drivers for economic growth and their rights should be protected.
With the economic climate still proving tough and the business climate more and more competitive, small business owners are feeling the pinch now more than ever. In a recent study by AXA, business owners were asked what they thought were the biggest risks facing their business. They cited a multitude of key risks, demonstrating the range of difficulties that have to be navigated by startups.
Nearly half of the respondents (48 per cent) cited theft as a risk, while more than one in ten said it was the main risk facing their business. Despite the government’s recent efforts to boost lending, cash flow remains the most common stumbling block for startups, with 40 per cent of respondents citing it as a top-ranking risk and one in seven highlighting it as the main risk facing their business. 40 per cent of respondents also identified accidental damage and being sued by a client or customer as other top-ranking risks.
As private sector companies involved in the aborted West Coast mainline rail franchise and the taxpayer continue to count the cost of another flawed procurement process, the business community delivers its verdict on Government progress in reforming public procurement one-year-on from its White Paper.
In a CBI survey of nearly 100 firms including small and medium-sized businesses, implementation of procurement reform was given an average score of 5/10. Although Government policy for reform is heading in the right direction – with an overall score of 8/10 – implementation is slow. Achieving faster procurement scored just 4/10.
The UK public sector spends £230 billion a year purchasing goods and services from the independent sector and driving growth through smarter procurement could have a significant impact but managed a score of only 4/10.
There are however some encouraging signs that Government’s desire for change is gathering momentum. The publication of both pipelines and the first capability strategy were welcomed by respondents; information about future opportunities received the highest score for implementation of 7/10. And LEAN training, which will address the deficit of commercial skills and expertise in the public sector is being rolled out, and earnt a score of 6/10.
Although there are early indications of the drive to reduce the complexity of the procurement process, this has had the least impact so far with a score of just 3/10 for implementation to date.
Across the board the rate of reform requires more urgency. The lack of progress on turning sound policy into actual change is not only damaging to government and costly to the taxpayer, but it also stunts growth.
It also prevents the development of long-term mutually beneficial relationships between government and its suppliers which could have a positive impact on key areas such as industrial policy, cost reduction and the implementation of broader public service reforms.
John Cridland, CBI director general, said:
“The recent problems over the procurement of the West Coast franchise have once again highlighted the challenge the public sector faces in its relationship with the private sector.
“As the complexity of deals increases, we need to see urgent improvement in the level of commercial skills that are second-nature to businesses, but are too often absent in public sector procurement. And more contracts should be focused on agreed outcomes, which deliver certainty and value for the taxpayer.”
With Christmas approaching, and all expectations pointing to another bumper season for ecommerce and credit card transactions, fears are rising that most UK businesses are taking inadequate steps to safeguard customers’ credit card details.
Analysis by Ground Labs, the identity protection specialists, has found that the vast majority of UK businesses hold consumer credit card data unwittingly. Holding credit card details in this way is a breach of Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) compliance obligations and can attract up to a £500,000 fine by the Information Commissioner Officer (ICO) in a case of a data breach.
Latest figures show that £341 million was stolen in the UK in 2011 through credit card fraud. There is a global black market for credit card data and hacking incidents have risen by 19 per cent in the past six months. The UK is consistently among the top three most targeted countries and in August 2012 suffered 69 per cent of worldwide phishing attacks.
Retention of credit card data is an issue for businesses of all sizes. A random survey of security experts who use Ground Labs software across more than 100 consumer-facing businesses found that every one of them had credit card details unwittingly stored on IT equipment. On average more than 1,000 credit card records were found by Ground Labs’ software within each business sampled.
Even businesses that claim to be compliant with agreed global standards for credit card data security hold rogue details, the Ground Labs survey has found. There are various possible reasons for this, all linked to standard computer processes such as browser caches or email duplications.
Amongst the worst examples uncovered was a company that firmly believed it had no records. It was found that the business actually held more than 20 million credit card numbers on servers throughout its network.
“We have more than 1,000 businesses across the UK and Europe that have used our software and every single business found erroneous card records in its IT systems”, said European director for Ground Labs, Mohamed Zouine. “What we have found is that even those businesses that believe that their systems are clean are carrying records that could be easily acquired by hackers.”
Many UK businesses have adopted an open mind, accepting there may be hidden data, and have already taken steps to identify and resolve any possible problems. Ground Labs is advocating the use of a simple software programme called Card Recon as part of the standard systems maintenance routine to detect and remove credit card details.
Mohamed Zouine added: “We believe a routine check should be as frequent as anti-virus checks. There are many ways in which card details can remain on business’s IT infrastructure unwittingly. Transaction logs sent back from banks, browser caches, email duplications and more can hold sensitive data that has a black market value in the wrong hands and can be used to defraud consumers.”
Zouine added: “The issue for small businesses is that they are far less protected than large corporations. It is relatively easy for an entrepreneurial thief to steal IT equipment or hack in to a business and retrieve valuable credit card data.”
The software is also beneficial for consumers. A similar routine test of 50 PCs and laptops found that all but one of them held credit card details without the owner’s knowledge. “It is surprising to learn that many businesses continue prompting customers to email their credit card information as part of completing a transaction such as a hotel reservation for example,” Zouine commented.
78 per cent of UK office workers want a more flexible work schedule to boost job satisfaction in the absence of pay increases, as the UK economy continues to stagnate, according to new research from online meeting provider TeamViewer. The survey also found that 68 per cent would like to work from home, whilst 50 per cent would like to travel less for work reasons.
Whilst companies have talked about creating flexible working policies for years now, the research suggests that some UK businesses are yet to implement a clear strategy. Indeed, 25 per cent of respondents in the survey never work from home, whilst a further 18 per cent rarely work from home. Only 26 per cent of respondents are able to choose when they want to work from home, whilst a further 22 per cent said home-working arrangements were flexible as long as they got prior agreement from their manager. When asked what would further improve their home working experience, 55 per cent stated faster connectivity, whilst 51 per cent wanted to have access to all documents as if they were based in the office. 33 per cent wanted their employer to make a contribution to their utility bills.
The research also provided a fascinating insight into UK home-working habits and rituals. 14 per cent like to work in the garden and 7 per cent work whilst cooking when they are at home. 13 per cent admitted to working whilst in bed (23 per cent in the 25-34 category) and a further 5 per cent said they had done work whilst in the bathroom! Interestingly, whilst UK workers do like the flexible nature of working from home, they still tend to stick to their typical office routine. Indeed, 36 per cent take tea and coffee breaks at the same time each day; 35 per cent start work at the same time every day; 33 per cent always shower before they start the working day; and 29 per cent always finish work at the same time every day.
Commenting on the research findings, Holger Felgner, general manager at TeamViewer explained: “The findings of this survey show that flexible working policies can satisfy employees seeking an improved work-life balance. TeamViewer gives people the freedom to work from anywhere at any time and on any device, while staying fully connected to the office infrastructure.”