Nick Duval from The Highwayman Hotel in Kidlington has written to warn us of a scam that other hospitality businesses should note carefully: suitably adapted, it could ‘scam’ you and your business. He writes as follows:
“If you are a Pub with rooms or a small Hotel, you need to be aware of a scam that has hit the UK and is probably causing considerable heartache to many small businesses even as I write this.
It’s not difficult to see once your eyes are opened to it, but I got so close to paying over nearly £2K it’s frightening.
To be paid by cheque…
It started with a customer e-mail looking for family accommodation in two months time. Having sorted all the preliminary issues, we got to the booking to be told the guest would not be providing a credit or debit card but that we would be receiving a cheque for more than the value of the stay from his employers in France.
Obviously, we indicated that we would not take the booking until we had cashed the cheque – which duly arrived from a French Bank made out in Euros. I cashed this at HSBC and in four days the funds cleared our account.
Take what’s due, and transfer the balance
I was staggered to realise that the value was some £2.4K and instantly raised this with the customer. He told me this was from his employers who wanted to treat the funds as a business expense rather than a bonus for French tax purposes. He had supplied a UK address and the details of his travel agent and asked if I could take what was due to us and deduct the exchange fees before transferring the difference to his agent.
Money-laundering or fraud?
By now I had genuine concerns I was being involved in money laundering or even fraud, but it was not such a worry as the funds had clearly been processed into my account. I remained sceptical for two or three days and even tried to contact the Fraud Action line but I did not get a response. I even tried calling but no answer. I started to worry that I may be involved in organised crime and that these people may come looking for me. After three days my main concern was just who am I dealing with here, and what was I going to do with their money.
Alerted – just in time
Four days after receiving the money into our account and having been told by the customer I was sitting on his money, I decided to make the transfer after he provided me with what he said was his personal account with the Co-operative Bank.
I had by now shared the story with a few individuals including one of my employees; amazingly enough, just as I was typing the details into the online account to make the payment, he called me to read a letter written to the money section of The Telegraph, where a Guest house had been scammed using the very same modus operandi.
Cheques take weeks to clear a foreign bank
It seems that cheques from outside the UK can take several weeks to clear a foreign bank and that if they prove fraudulent then it is you that loses out. Relieved that by the skin of my teeth I had escaped a significant loss, I found in the post that day a letter from HSBC stating their position on foreign cheques.
I guess the moral remains: if it looks too good to be true…
The Highwayman Hotel, Kidlington Oxford OX5 2HB
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