Cibercrimen y fraude en distribución comercial y operaciones internacionales

Cybercrime and fraud in commercial distribution and international operations

There are several embassies and Economic and Commercial Offices that, in the face of the growing wave of fraud against exporting companies, have published communications encouraging Spanish companies to take extreme precautions when exporting. The last case, and one of the most relevant for Spanish companies, is that of the Spanish Embassy in London.

Cybercrimes are not new in the United Kingdom, exclusive to this region, nor do they only affect Spanish companies. Cases of fraud in the export of goods are not new either – in fact, in 2015 the European Parliament already warned of an increase in the number of frauds in the distribution of goods in Poland – but their recent complexity and sophistication do constitute cause for attention. special.

The most repeated fraud is the so-called “European Distribution Fraud”, in which criminal gangs are usually involved that pose as real and recognizable companies through the impersonation of a legitimate importer, wholesaler or retailer for the theft of goods from European suppliers. The methods they use include using email addresses or contact details similar to those of real companies to place or accept large orders. Suppliers or buyers ship products to a false address provided by scammers or discover that they have paid for products they will never receive.

This type of crime has been more oriented towards wines and food products (olive oil, preserves, eggs, chocolate, nuts, etc.), although cases of theft of industrial machinery, vehicles, solar panels, etc. have also been recorded. .

What is the modus operandi of these criminals?

In 75% of cases, criminals contact victims by email (although they also carry out this type of scam by telephone), posing as a wholesaler, distributor or international importer who has located them through their website. or at a fair or congress and show their interest in placing an order for merchandise of significant volumes and quantities. If you want to know more about this type of fraud, called CEO scam, which is increasingly common, consult this article on the subject written by our CEO, Juan Antonio Calles.

Another of the registered means of contact is an approach to the victims at sector fairs attended by companies interested in exporting. At these events, which can be held either in the country of origin or the destination, scammers pose as representatives of distribution or import companies and show interest in the victim companies.

After the usual exchange of contact cards, they contact the victims and, using this assumed relationship of trust, place a large order for merchandise.

The email address from which they send the communications is very similar to the one they impersonate and, in the most sophisticated cases, they include logos, websites, physical addresses and other elements to give the message greater realism. If you have questions about how to differentiate a malicious email from one that is not, we leave you a link to our post.

Once contact is established, scammers confirm a large order without requesting product samples and without negotiating prices, quantities, shipping times, billing methods, etc. and indicate a suspicious delivery location. This delivery point is usually a rented warehouse from which the merchandise is later removed, without the warehouse being able to take responsibility for the fraudulent activity that takes place there. In other cases, criminals provide details of a real, legitimate warehouse and, once the order is in transit, contact the carrier or supplier and indicate that the delivery point needs to be modified for logistical reasons. .

In both situations, the criminals remove the merchandise without any problem and the victim is not aware of having fallen into fraud until they send the invoice to the supposed importer or wholesaler and he tells them that they have not placed any order.

Another type of scam includes the purchase and sale of transport elements to defraud Spanish importers, in this case. The criminals advertise a product and close the transaction with the Spanish buyer in exchange for sending a part of the equivalent value of said product. As soon as the fraudsters receive the income, they inform the Spanish buyer that the merchandise is detained in customs pending VAT settlement. To give a greater level of realism to the scam, the criminals even send a falsified customs document in which the Spanish importer is made to understand that customs is demanding payment of VAT to allow the clearance of the merchandise, indicating in that same document an account number in which to make the deposit.

What should be taken into account in international operations to prevent fraud?

Some recommendations for the prevention of fraud in international sales operations are:

• Pay attention to commercial and collection procedures, especially with companies with which a commercial relationship is established for the first time.

• Review the email addresses from which communications are received and check them on the company's website or call the number listed on the website to verify that the contact person actually works for the company. In any case, it is important not to use the contact numbers provided by the alleged impersonator during communications.

• Be wary of unexpected requests or easy negotiations in which there has not been a reasonable negotiation process. International trade processes usually include complex negotiations in which samples, prices and exhaustive information related to different variables are requested, regardless of the size of the importing or exporting company.

• Verify the details of alleged bank transfer confirmations by contacting the bank

• Be suspicious of first orders that include unusual payment conditions in foreign trade, such as, for example, “payment within 30 days after receipt of the merchandise”

• Locate the delivery address of the merchandise and verify that it is, in fact, a warehouse of the retailer, wholesaler, importer or legitimate distributor.

• When managing the shipment, indicate to the carrier that the delivery point cannot be modified in any case without the approval of the supplier.


What should I do if I have been a victim of a distribution scam or if I suspect I may be?

If you receive an email or an order with any of the characteristics described above and you have doubts about its legitimacy or veracity, you can contact the corresponding Commercial Office of Spain at the corresponding location to obtain more information. If the Office confirms that it may be a scam, it will recommend ignoring and cutting off any type of communication with the scammers. In that case, you can send an email to the police or competent authority in the country so that they are aware of the attempted fraud and can use the information to prevent future fraud. In the case of the United Kingdom, the contact address is:

If the merchandise sent is en route (it has not yet arrived at the destination) or the product was delivered a few hours ago and you have realized that it is a fraud, it is urgent to try to stop the shipment and proceed to file a complaint before the Security Forces competent in the territorial demarcation of your company (National Police Corps, Civil Guard or Autonomous Police in those Autonomous Communities that have transferred powers).

If, finally, the scam has been consummated, you must report it to the competent Security Forces in the territorial demarcation of your company.

At Zerolynx we can help you investigate the authenticity of your new business partners through our Fingerprint or Due Diligence services. , in which we analyze and investigate the information of the person or company you are contacting to guarantee the security of your operations. In this way, before starting a new commercial or strategic relationship, you can be certain of the veracity of the link and proceed to import or export your products safely.

If you have been a victim of fraud and need a report to complement your complaint, do not hesitate to hire our Fraud Investigation and analysis service. We carry out detailed investigations tailored to each case in order to provide as much information as possible and thus complement the investigation of the competent authorities. Our analysts are authorized to ratify reports and, if necessary, appear in court.

Remember: when in doubt, follow your instinct and do not trust yourself and, if you need it, ask the authorities for help or write to us at and we will attend to your case in a personalized way. The security of your operations is our priority.


María Martín, Business Development at Zerolynx

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