A Brisbane-based business operator has been fined a total of $50,000 for fraudulent activity, including sending businesses invoices for unsolicited services and making false and misleading representations.
The Queensland Office of Fair Trading (OFT) investigated Amanda Jane Stichbury after finding she had sent invoices to businesses across the country for services they had never requested.
Stichbury was fined $10,000 in the Southport Magistrates Court earlier this month, and her three businesses were fined a total of $40,000. Stichbury is the sole director of her three businesses, Accommodation Find Pty Ltd, Internet Find Pty Ltd, and Special Days Pty Ltd.
A total of 166 infringement counts were brought against Stichbury, who pleaded guilty to all of them. Invoices sent to businesses implied she had previous relations with the businesses, according to a report on the decision from OFT, which was not the case.
“Ms Stichbury’s business model was based almost entirely on deception, and sought to prey upon time-poor businesses simply paying an invoice without enquiring into it too deeply,” OFT director Brian Bauer said in a statement.
“Such behaviour has no place in Queensland, and the OFT will continue to vigorously pursue any unscrupulous traders intentionally misleading other businesses or consumers.”
This is not the first time Stichbury has been fined as a result of action by the OFT – as she ordered to pay $18,000 in fines after a previous conviction for similar offences in 2014, according to the OFT statement.
According to ScamWatch, there were 14,634 reports of false billing scams over 2016, and commercial lawyer with TressCox Lawyers Tony Mylne tells SmartCompany these sorts of scams are more common than you’d think.
“The Gold Coast especially is rumoured to be the centre of this behaviour, there have been various scam rooms set up there,” Mylne says.
“This wouldn’t be an isolated incident.”
Mylne believes the success and prevalence of such scams are “a symptom of a busy society”.
“Ten years ago this wouldn’t have happened, I think it’s very symptomatic of how busy people are today. We see these scams in domestic situations too, so it’s not just businesses affected,” he says.
The amounts Stichbury and her businesses have been fined is “pretty significant” says Mylne.
The OFT urges businesses to be vigilant when paying invoices, and Mylne echoes those statements but also urges action from any businesses who have been affected.
“All convictions made by the OFT rely on people being vigilant and following through with complaints to authorities. Some people could be scammed and not know about it, or just don’t follow through with complaints,” he says.
“A successful scam like this can go uncovered for a long time. The prevalence of occurrence doesn’t match up with the prevalence of prosecution.”
As for businesses wanting to avoid costly fake invoicing errors, Mylne advises stronger invoice vetting across multiple people.
“The target for these scams are businesses without strong invoice control,” he says.
“All it takes is someone who’s not on their game and being pressured for payment. Implement stronger controls for who can and can’t authorise payments.”
SmartCompany contacted Stichbury and her businesses but did not receive a response prior to publication.