Bankruptcy (or liquidation) can be a valid business tool when used properly. Unfortunately, it can also enable less-than-honest business owners to profit at the expense of their creditors. Such is often the case with “phoenix” companies.

Rising from the ashes

Phoenix companies earn their name because they rise from the ashes of failed companies, trading on the goodwill of the original businesses. Here’s how a phoenix company scheme might work: A company’s owner buys goods on credit, purposely drives the business into the ground and then buys its assets back from liquidators at knockdown prices. The owner then returns to the same line of business. Some operators repeat the process multiple times — as often as they can get away with it.

These shady companies usually are undercapitalized from the start, and they almost always leave a trail of unpaid debts to mark the end of their short life spans. Unfortunately, unsuspecting creditors may sell goods to the new company (that retains the old name) under the impression they’re dealing with the original business. Meanwhile, creditors of the original company remain unpaid.

Legitimate or not

It’s perfectly legal for an insolvent company to sell its assets to another party at market value. It’s also legal to sell a business to existing management. How, then, do you know whether a company’s decision to sell assets is made in good faith or is an effort to avoid liability? And how can you prove that a bankrupt company unable to satisfy creditors has actually funneled assets into a new business?

Forensic accounting experts investigate the owner’s background and the company’s history, taking industry into consideration. (Phoenix companies are more common in such sectors as construction and hospitality.) And they look for red flags — for example, evidence that the owner of the defunct company deliberately ran up debts before declaring bankruptcy or made selective payments to creditors that later went on to supply the new entity.

Don’t become a victim

To avoid becoming a creditor of a fraudulently bankrupt company, watch whom you do business with. Before extending credit, ask for references and verify that the customer has a record of paying its bills. Contact us for advice and help at 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019 CovenantCPA

Gift cards offer businesses a convenient way to reward employees and thank customers. However, as the FBI recently warned, gift card scams specifically targeting companies are on the rise. Since January 2017, losses from such fraud schemes have surpassed $1 million. Here’s what you need to know to avoid being cheated.

Anatomy of a scam

Fraudsters use classic “spoofing” strategies to execute what law enforcement terms Business Internet Compromise (BIC) scams. They email or text an employee, claiming to be someone who can authorize gift card expenditures, such as the company’s CEO or HR director.

Messages typically instruct the employee to purchase gift cards for the executive to give as gifts or to use for office expenses, such as holiday party supplies. The employee is told to send the gift card information, including card numbers and PINs, back to the “executive” (in reality, the scammer) who then cashes out the cards’ value. By the time the business catches on, it’s already too late to recover the stolen funds.

All companies are vulnerable to this type of fraud. But certain sectors seem to be at increased risk, including real estate, legal, medical, and distribution and supply businesses, as well as nonprofit organizations.

Simple steps

Prevention starts with education. Inform employees about the scam and ask them to be on the lookout for emails or texts that ask them to buy multiple gift cards on someone else’s behalf. They should be particularly suspicious if the email urges them to act quickly or to reply with the gift card numbers and PINs.

To be on the safe side, require employees to follow up on any electronically delivered purchasing request with a phone call to the requesting party. And to reduce the chance that employees will receive spoofed emails, ensure that your network security is robust and up to date.

Report and control

The FBI asks businesses to report BIC gift card incidents to its Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. Also, contact us at 205-345-9898. We can help you implement strong internal controls to prevent fraudsters from taking advantage of unsuspecting employees.

© 2018 Covenant CPA