Warning to Company Directors: Keep an eye on your registered office!

Corporate identity fraud continues affect unwary companies. In particular, solvent and financially strong companies are targeted because of their credit rating, which makes it easier for the fraudsters to succeed.

I was acting for a regular client in a transaction and had prepared a document for the deal, The document was emailed to the solicitor acting for the other party, to approve. Shortly afterwards, the document was returned with the address of my client changed on the draft to an address in a town in the north-west.

Mildly irritated (because I know my client’s address very well), I re-corrected the address and sent the document back with some further changes. A short while later, the document was returned, and again the address of my client had been changed. At that point, I checked the records of my client at Companies House, and saw that the registered office was now shown as the address in the north-west. Fortunately my client was able to change the registered office address back to the correct address very quickly, and no harm was done. But others have not been so lucky.

There are stories of companies who have suffered this fraud over extended holiday periods, such as Christmas and New Year, during which the fraudsters changed a company’s registered office, created a false website and email addresses and ordered valuable goods for delivery to the new registered office, all relying on the credit rating of the victim.

If my client had not been involved in a transaction at that point, the change of registered office may not have been noticed for several months, and of course the company may not have received official correspondence form HMRC, Companies House and the like.

Having been targeted once, my client company to which this occurred and its connected companies have all been signed up to the Companies House PROOF scheme. This free scheme allows changes of company officers, change of registered office and filing of the Annual Return to be submitted online only, instead of on paper forms.

It is very easy to join the PROOF scheme. More details can be found on the Companies House website at www.companieshouse.gov.uk/infoAndGuide/proof.shtml

Our advice is that all companies should sign up to the PROOF scheme, for piece of mind and to avoid the potentially devastating consequences of fraud.

by Tony Cheetham from the Wisbech office