Businesses across the north-east are being targeted in a VAT scam which could leave them thousands of pounds out of pocket.
Letters, marked “UK data control”, have been arriving at premises across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire in recent days.
The demands ask bosses to sign a form confirming their VAT details are up to date. It is only in the small print that it explains that they are agreeing to pay £790 a year for at least three years, and then indefinitely unless the contract is cancelled.
Trading Standards chiefs in Aberdeen say they have had a series of complaints from local companies and are urging victims to ignore the letters and pass their details on to them instead.
Ian Cukrowski – who owns MacBean’s, a coffee and tea specialist, in Little Belmont Street in Aberdeen – only realised something was amiss when he noticed the company’s registered address was in Hamburg, Germany.
A veteran businessman of 25 years, he believes less experienced traders could easily be duped.
Mr Cukrowski, 57, said: “It’s definitely one I’ve not seen before, and it’s quite advanced.
“There is so much red tape for small businesses with Scotland, the UK and the EU that people could easily fall for it because they’re scared of breaking one of these rules.”
Ruth Skinner, of Strathorn Farm, near Pitcaple in Aberdeenshire, initially thought the letter was from the Scottish Government.
She too smelled a rat when she noticed the return address was in Hamburg, Germany, and realised the £790 charge would be for inclusion in a business directory.
Last night Mrs Skinner, whose husband George has lived on the farm for 75 years, said she had “never seen anything like it”.
She is in the process of registering the farm under the new Land Reform (Scotland) Bill 2015 and thought the timing of the demand was “no coincidence”.
She said: “We’ve received letters like this in the past and I’ve just put them straight in the bucket but this one looked so professional it had me going.
“I was so angry when I figured it out.
“I’m worried they have sent this out to other farms. It could make someone pay a lot of money for nothing.”
UK data control did not respond to a request for comment.
However, Aberdeen-based Trading Standards spokesman Graeme Paton said: “If businesses sign and return the form to confirm their details are correct they could end up being tied into a contract and liable for the high costs.
“We have had several inquiries from businesses regarding this and we have advised them that they are not obliged to provide the information to this company.”
Any business concerned that it is being targeted by scammers should contact Trading Standards on 01224 523737.