People are struggling to have their names and home addresses removed from bogus firms registered at Companies House by fraudsters. Experts warn that fake information posted on the official register of UK companies is leading to small firms being scammed out of thousands of pounds.
Last month, The Mail on Sunday reported that tens of thousands of people are unknowingly having firms set up in their name by fraudsters who shockingly use the details to take out loans or swindle consumers.
Despite promises by the Government to beef up its powers, Companies House is powerless to check the veracity of information supplied by those forming a new firm. As a result, its register is littered with false data. Since our report, we have been deluged with correspondence from victims and experts worried at the inability of Companies House to tackle this mountain of fraudulent information.
Scam: Tens of thousands of people are unknowingly having firms set up in their name by fraudsters who shockingly use the details to take out loans or swindle consumers
Retired chartered librarian William Clarke, 77, pleaded with Companies House to remove his home as the registered address of a firm he had never heard of. He says: 'I was worried that if the firm got into debt, the lenders could send the heavies round to our home.' William, who lives in the Midlands with his disabled wife, grew more fearful when he received a letter from Nationwide Building Society asking if he would like a start-up loan. He says he was told by Companies House it would take 35 days for his address to be removed.
'Before that I had to prove I lived at my own address,' he says. 'But the people who fraudulently registered the firm at our address didn't need to provide any evidence.' Another reader, from Northern Ireland, finally managed to get Companies House to dissolve a firm four months after he reported it had fraudulently used his name and address. But the company still appears on the register, and he is still listed as a person with significant control. He cannot remove his name without a court order.
'Why should I pay to do this?' he asks. 'Companies House accepted this false information, not me, so it should be going to court to fix it.' Diane Vaughan, 66, from Woking, Surrey, only found out she had two Chinese mail order firms registered at her home address when she received VAT letters from Revenue & Customs. She says: 'I've been going through hoops since August trying to get my address removed. I'm worried it will affect my credit score.'
Small businesses are also victims of the menace of fraudulent information on Companies House.
James Campbell of the European Freight Trades Association warns that fraudsters can file bogus accounts to make it look like they are established, profitable and creditworthy. Since this information goes unchecked, unsuspecting small businesses then extend them credit, only for the fraudsters to disappear with the debt unpaid.
'Bogus accounts are the weapon of choice of the fraudster,' he says. 'Credit reference agencies use Companies House to create reports that firms rely on to decide whether to extend credit to a new business. If that is fake, the credit reports are inaccurate as well. These reports should carry a disclaimer.'
Campbell says some businesses have lost thousands of pounds, though telling members what to look out for has stemmed losses.
VICTIMS BACK OUR ANTI-FRAUD CAMPAIGN
The boss of credit reference firm Company Watch warns that lack of trust in the information on which companies decide whether to extend credit to buyers can have an adverse impact on trade.
'Wary firms may restrict the supply of trade credit on which the economy depends,' says Jo Kettner. She backs The Mail on Sunday's call for reforms to Companies House to be enacted soon.
She says better collection of data would help, adding: 'Revenue & Customs and Companies House do not always work together. That means a firm can file one set of accounts to the Revenue to make it look as if it did not make a profit and so does not need to pay tax.
'It then sends another set of accounts to Companies House that make it look profitable so it is able to borrow credit.
'Also, as a result of poor quality data, a company can have a county court judgment against it without this appearing on the public record.' On Friday, Companies House said there were 4.7million companies on the register and that the vast majority abide by the law, though it admits that UK corporate entities are used to enable fraud, and says it is working closely with law enforcement agencies to tackle it.
It added: 'Basic checks are undertaken on any documents received to make sure that they have been fully completed and signed. But we do not have the statutory power to verify the accuracy of the information filed.'