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Friday, 1 November 2013

No Credit If You Can't Spell Your Name?

In a previous post I wondered what to make of companies that couldn’t spell their own names correctly, No Credit Your Name Worries Us. Since that post we’ve come across other companies with the same issue.

In a typical scenario a credit controller receives some basic details by telephone, and then does a company search on our system. No trace. They try again. No trace. Our client then contacts us and asks us why the company can't be found.

When we look into it, we find that the company is not being returned in the expected search results because it is incorporated and trading with the wrong spelling of the defining word in their own company name.

Would you feel confident extending credit to a company offering ‘Buisness’ services? Or what are the prospects for a business that has an ‘a’ instead of ‘e’ when trying to operate an education ‘Acadamy’? The dilemma for credit controllers in such cases is whether to be influenced by the incorrect spelling. Does it infer a sloppy approach which could extend to other areas of the business including the finances?

We recently checked a chauffeur car business with a missing ‘u’ in their ‘Chauffer’ driven cars business name. I bet they could drive you round the bend...

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Security Loophole Access to Credit Files

Access to personal credit reports is strictly controlled with legal requirements limiting who can search files. To be authorised to search someone else’s credit file requires the searcher to be registered under the Data Protection Act.

Having access to an online credit checking service is a standard part of the vetting procedure for many companies that deal with consumers. Companies with a licence to search consumers include high street mobile phone companies and letting agents, and stores and supermarkets that offer account and credit facilities.

Credit agencies that provide access to credit checks will screen each organisation that applies to open an account, and will ask the organisation to provide their Data Protection Number. Without a DPN, the application to run credit checks will be denied.

However First Report has seen an increase in fraudulent attempts to get around this. All organisations which are registered under the Data Protection Act can be searched online on the Data Protection Public Register, a public website which is designed to enable anyone to quickly verify the licence details of any registered organisation.

Entering just a single name or word is sufficient to return all organisations that have a similar name on the register. Each entry includes the Data Protection Registration Number, the type of licence held, and name and address details for the holder.

The availability of this data means that criminals can search the public register and record all the details shown. In the cases recorded by First Report, the applicant has registered a domain name that looks appropriate for a division or branch of the company, and then set up an email address at that domain. The scammers then apply to access credit files using all the legitimate information and the Data Protection Registration Number, and their own email address and phone number.

Criminals who attempt to access consumer credit files are commonly hoping to harvest personal information which can then be used for identity theft and fraud.

At First Report we have a detailed due diligence process and we have successfully stopped a number of attempts to gain access to personal credit data using this scam. We have reported this to the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

I May Know Your Credit Card PIN

A while back I explained how your password can be cracked. Well, it seems that a large number of people are almost inviting someone to empty their bank accounts if their credit cards or debit cards get stolen.

Amazingly, your PIN is probably either 1234, or 1111. Am I right? If not, well done; you are among the 75% of people that don’t use one of these two numbers. But everyone else, which therefore includes 1 in 4 people reading this, has one of these two numbers as their PIN.

Most bank machines allow a couple of attempts to enter your PIN in case you mistype the first time. So two goes would be enough to try both 1234 and 1111 with a 25% chance of hitting the jackpot.

Other common combinations include simple number patterns such as 4444 or 1212. Dates of birth figure regularly, so if you do use your date of birth, your PIN is more likely to be compromised if you keep other identification containing your date of birth in the same place as your credit cards.

However there is some good news. There are 10,000 potential combinations for a 4 digit PIN. So any PIN has a 1 in 10,000 chance of being guessed randomly. But because so many people choose one of the obvious number patterns, that means that the thousands of patternless number combinations are shared out thinly among the rest of the card holders. So for example, someone using 8398 or 6793 is sharing their PIN with around only 0.001% of other card holders, or 1 in 100,000.

So although your odds of any number being cracked randomly would still be 1 in 10,000, the important word here is ‘randomly’. The fact is that criminals and hackers know the most popular numbers and don’t always try randomly; they can save time and increase the chances of success by trying the common PINs first.

So when choosing your PIN, it’s probably better to choose a number that is likely to be shared with closer to 1 in 100,000 than 1 in 4 people!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Small Firms Wait 250 Years for Prompt Payment

The impact of the Prompt Payment Code has been questioned with the revelation that some major companies are still making their small suppliers wait around 250 days for payment. 

The Prompt Payment Code may be a step in the right direction, but recognition of the problem is more overdue than many would perhaps imagine. Small suppliers have been waiting hundreds of years for fair treatment.

I was recently looking at a display of some Thomas Chippendale chairs, and was informed that although he was the leading furniture craftsman of his time, his credit control was a total mess. 

Back in eighteenth Century Britain, exchange the big blue chip companies of today and in their place put the aristocracy, and you get the general picture. They had the money, the influence, and the buying power; and they used it to their full advantage.

The biggest order Chippendale’s firm fulfilled was to supply a vast amount of furniture for Edwin Lascelles at Harewood House. He then had to wait for over 10 years for payment. Such treatment of small traders and suppliers was not uncommon.

As a footnote, if you have a login client account with First Report don’t forget that as well as credit reports we also we offer free debt recovery letters which have very good results.

Anything useful to share or any comments, drop me a line via our Contact page.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Day The Internet Stopped

Imagine not just a slow connection, or a browser or server needing a quick reboot, but no internet at all. 

The internet was once a relatively small community based on trust with little need for security and reliability. The internet of today is vastly more complex but is based on the original building blocks. This is now concerning some who were actively involved with the early days.

Take away the internet and it’s not just getting an instant credit check that stops. Airlines would stop flying, power and fuel supplies would be disrupted, and logistics would struggle to get medical supplies to hospitals or food to supermarket shelves; assuming anything could still be produced. For much of the world everything relies on the internet being there to send and receive information. The light bulb that never blows.

But the internet is actually quite fragile and has grown far beyond what it was originally designed for. A couple of years ago a large amount of all the traffic on the internet including potentially sensitive US security data, got routed through China. China Telecom said it was an accident - and this was actually plausible because the internet structure makes it relatively easy for this to have happened accidentally. This is because the internet relies on a network of routers that route the traffic across the globe like postal sorting depots. These routing servers exchange information with each other on the fastest routes for traffic to take to get to its destination. But even a small error in the code in a core router can result in wrong routing information being spread across the internet.

To illustrate the point, in the early days of the internet one router processor got a bug which resulted in a message delivery time that was a minus figure, in other words it appeared able to deliver a message before it was received. Not surprisingly that made it the fastest router on the internet! All the other routers on the internet tried to put their traffic through that one router until everything collapsed, and the internet had to be turned off while it was fixed.

The basic structure remains the same today. But turning the internet off today is not an option. Only a few weeks ago the biggest cyber-attack to date slowed down the internet by flooding the network until domain name servers were overwhelmed worldwide.

Years ago First Report credit reports were sent by post or fax. The internet is certainly amazing and the change in the way we work and communicate has been staggering. We now take it for granted, but we shouldn't.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Is It True? A Credit Check Suggests...

The recent media reports about large companies delaying payment has encouraged me to look at the ‘inside information.’ 

Late payment and the cash flow pressure it puts on small businesses is becoming a heated topic. The most recent furore has now put Debenhams in the spotlight after reports in the press suggested that the high street store is increasing the time it takes to pay suppliers.

I imagine the two questions that most concern a credit controller are, can they pay, and when. In the case of Debenhams the recent fuss has been about the ‘when’. So I decided to see what a credit check on Debenhams with First Report would show a potential supplier interested in seeing actual payment records.

A shameless plug: the payment records in our credit reports show the overall trend, and also show days beyond terms by size of invoice, from smaller invoices under £1,000 up to suppliers who have issued invoices for £100,000 or more.

So are Debenhams increasing the time they take to pay, and do they make smaller suppliers wait longer for payment? I’ll let you decide how you would interpret the data. Here’s a link to the latest payment performance in our report on Debenhams which shows payment records up to last month.

If you’re not getting payment records in your credit reports, contact our Helpdesk and open an account with us.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

No Credit - Your Name Worries Us

One of our clients wondered what to make of it when a company name is spelt wrong. It’s a good point.

Not just wrong on the credit application form, but on the credit report too because it’s the way the company is incorporated at Companies House

There are some words in English that often get misspelt and most of us get caught out or mistype occasionally. But there are times when you would think it matters to get it right, such as when naming a business. But a quick company search of our database lists companies proud to rule as ‘Brittania’, companies that are ‘Independant’, and companies that provide ‘Maintenence’ services. Quite a few provide ‘Acommodation’ but can’t find room for two ‘c’s. ‘Student Acommodation’ is especially popular. You couldn't make it up.

The lack of attention to detail, if the company name can be called a detail, would make me worry how the business was run generally.

Imagine getting an application for credit from a company selling office supplies, and their company name is something ‘Stationary’. I don't know about you, but I’d think that was a business that won’t go far. When we last came across a 'stationary' company a Helpdesk colleague recalled how his old school teacher explained how to get that one right: ‘The man who looks after the station, ‘arry, never goes anywhere.’

We don’t include spell checking in our own credit rating algorithms. Perhaps we should if we could demonstrate any correlation between misspelt company names and corporate failure. But in the absence of any empirical tests, it’s down to instinct and a credit check.

Anything useful to share or any comments, drop me a line via our Contact page.

Till next time.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Credit Controllers Face More Credit Risk

In a few weeks time credit controllers may have to deal with creditors who can play the system and disrupt their supplier’s cash flow for even larger amounts.

In April the Government’s proposals to reform civil litigation take effect. The proposals are designed to introduce quicker, fairer and more cost-effective litigation. 

However, the proposals include raising the small claims track claim limit to £10,000. An unintended consequence is that credit controllers may now be faced with opportunistic creditors.

These creditors will know that they can withhold payment of quite significant amounts, and the worst that can happen is being forced to pay the principal sum and no solicitors’ fees, at some time much further in future. Very disruptive to your cash flow, but cynically beneficial to theirs. 

Two Offers of Practical Help

If you use First Report, a company credit check is already part of your procedure, and a Payment Performance report will show you how long a potential customer is stringing out payments to its other suppliers. Real invoices and actual time taken to pay. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

If you are not currently looking at the Payment Performance when you run a credit check, contact our Helpdesk now to get access to this extra information on your account. 

The second way we can help is this offer from the London specialists in debt recovery litigation, Silverman Sherliker

They understand the issues and ways around the problems, and will offer a fixed fee agreement for such cases. This means you can claim against debts without the worry of your legal costs spiralling out of control and wiping out the value of the claim. For information on the changes to the small claims track and how they can help you, contact James Robertson on +44 (0)20 7749 2700 or and mention First Report.

Till next time.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Your Banking Password Can Be Cracked

I thought my password was safe. Until I tested it out. 

The security of a password is measured by how long it would take to crack it. 

You probably have a different password for your online banking than the one you use to login to First Report for a credit check. Your banking password may be even more secure. But if you’re curious just how safe is your password pay this site a visit – How Secure Is My Password. You could be in for a surprise.

After testing your password you may decide it’s time to change it to something stronger. I use the How Secure Is My Password site to help me choose secure passwords. If you’re cautious about entering your real password even to test it, you can test an equivalent one, so if your real password is ‘mark7’ - 4 letters and a number - then test ‘john6’ and the result will still tell you what you need to know. 

Password cracking software is easy to get for those that want it. Many people will have had the same passwords for years, and although ten years ago their password may have been considered secure, today with increased computing power the same password may be quite vulnerable.

In the meantime if you should forget your First Report login, there is a password reminder link under the login box.

Anything useful to share or any comments, drop me a line via our Contact page.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Why We Didn’t Blog. And Now We Do.

We avoided the trend for corporate blogging for years. So what’s this here? 

This is our new blog. We didn’t blog before because so many other corporate blogs are essentially just press releases and sales propaganda. Or internet pollution I call it. So that’s why we didn’t.

So why now? Well I’ve been cajoled into it. Along with the buttons along the top of the website that you can click to show you like us (you know, the Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ icons – if you are on Twitter, Facebook, or have a Google+ account please click them to show you like us.)

But we only wanted to blog if we can pass on information which you may find genuinely useful and interesting. Not just blah-de-blah about how great our credit reports are. So although we may put in the odd post about our service we will try to give our blog a slightly wider remit. 

If you like the idea do me a favour and drop us a line to suggest a topic or anything you think others may also find useful or interesting. Otherwise my next post may just be about how great First Report credit reports are. 

Anything useful to share or any comments, drop me a line via our Contact page.

Till next time.