Targeting scammers… Phone battle hots up… ATO’s softer line… More red tape… Brumby’s buyout… New defence for directors… Economy roundup

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Scams… have you been caught?

Small businesses are being ripped off by an average of almost $2000 a year, says the Victorian small business commissioner, Mark Brennan.

Most scams are between $200 and $300 and less than half are reported to police because it is too time-consuming, he said, at the launch of a national campaign, SCAMwatch this morning.

Brennan and other fraud watchdogs – including the ACCC, ASIC, CPA Australia and the Victoria Police – launched SCAMwatch, to warn small business to be very careful of fraud and scams that rip $3 billion from Australian small business each year.

Brennan says most businesses are approached about once a week with a scam. A third of online traders have been a victim of fraud and more than half those businesses have become repeat targets.

The most popular scams are:

1. False billing for a directory listing or advertisement that may not exist or was not ordered.
2. Being invoiced for office supplies never ordered, never received or was not what was ordered.
3. Receiving a fake renewal for a domain name or an invoice for a domain name that is very similar.

The best defence against fraud is to keep written records of all orders and purchases, limit the number of people who have authority to buy or order anything and deal with trusted people.

To read the top 10 tips to guard against scams, go to Preventing fraud.

– Amanda Gome

Battle of the phones hots up:

The VoIP (voice over internet protocol) battle for the SME market is hotting up, with MyNetFone announcing this morning that it is sourcing a new range of equipment from market leader Linksys. The equipment targeted at small office/home office (Soho) businesses and SMEs will provide two lines of VoIP telephone and fax service at rates much lower than traditional providers, claims Andy Fung, head of MyNetFone. “A typical small enterprise may be able to save more than $1000 per annum … with multiple phone lines combined into one low cost service.”

Meanwhile, Optus will launch a VoIP product to small and medium business customers during the June quarter. The product will carry internet, intranet and voice and has the ability to replace the need for large number of fixed lines. The product will let customers cut fixed-line costs without compromising on voice quality, says Paul Kitchin, managing director Optus small and medium business.

– Amanda Gome

ATO muzzles the hounds

The Australian Taxation Office will pull back on its hard-ball approach to litigation against businesses and others who contest its rulings after receiving a severe ticking off from the Federal Court in a recent case.

Businesses and private individuals who dispute a tax decision or private ruling face lengthy and extraordinarily expensive litigation against the seemingly limitless resources of the ATO. In practice, this meant many businesses were deterred from contesting ATO rulings.

The ATO was heavily criticised by Federal Court judges for “ignoring” applicable court decisions in its administration of aspects of tax law. The unprecedented Federal Court criticism follows comments by the inspector-general of taxation, David Vos, that community perceptions of the ATO’s “win at all costs approach to litigation are justified”.

The tax profession welcomes the changes. “We are likely to see the ATO being more prepared to settle on just terms rather than proceed with litigation, and that’s good a thing,” says Michael Dirkis, the senior counsel at the Taxation Institute of Institute.

“Many businesses have avoided litigation in the past because big costs meant that even when you win, you lose.” He says. “Its good to see the commission is now responding to what the court and everybody else has been saying and is seeking to become more of a model litigant than it was in that past.”

– Mike Preston

Productivity Commission calls for yet another red tape review

The Productivity Commission has called on state and federal governments to review whether previous programs have reduced the red tape burden on business. The call follows Treasurer Peter Costello’s announcement last week that the commission will conduct yearly industry-based reviews of red tape and the release of a commission report on the benefits of red tape reduction.

Isn’t red tape reduction supposed to mean less red tape?

– Mike Preston

Brumby’s MBO

Michael Sherlock, managing director of Brumby’s, says he is not ready to let the bread franchise go. His management buyout offer of $2.80 a share (backed by NAB) has trumped the $2.68 offered by the ASX-listed Retail Food Group, which owns Donut King and BBs Coffees. Brumby’s independent directors indicated yesterday they will accept the $2.80 offer.

Retail Food Group listed on the ASX last year, and like many franchise chains wanting to grow, is on the acquisition trail. The ball is now in its court: will it come up with a better offer?

– Jacqui Walker

Better defences and bigger fines for company directors

Company directors may soon be able to rely on an expanded “business judgement” defence against allegations of Corporations Law breaches if recommendations of the Review of Sanctions for Breaches of Corporate Law, released yesterday by treasurer Peter Costello, are adopted.

It’s not all good news, however: the paper also canvasses increasing maximum civil penalties from $200,000.

– Mike Preston

Economy roundup

The S&P/ASX 200 has recovered some of yesterday’s 2.29% fall this morning, picking up 38.2 points (0.68%) to reach 5691.8 at 11.30 am.

Commodity stocks are likely to benefit from a prediction of record high commodity export earnings of $148 billion for 2007-08, contained in today’s ABARE’s Australian Commodities report.

ABARE forecasts an all time export earning high, driven largely by increased shipments of iron ore, coal, LNG, copper, grains and oilseeds in response to strong demand in overseas markets, especially China.

Today’s Westpac/ACCI survey of industrial trends shows manufacturers expects soft business conditions over the next three months, then a substantially pickup in June. The survey reports an upward trend in manufacturing after a relatively quiet December 2006 quarter.

Two reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics today offer mixed news: dwelling building approvals fell 0.9% (seasonally adjusted) in January, but the seasonally adjusted estimate for the deficit on goods and services decreased by $503 million to $876 million in January.


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