Support and Advice - BIMCO Bulletin

Support and Advice

SUPPORT AND ADVICE June 2021 Support and Advice guides BIMCO members on contractual issues and disputes. Every year, the team answers commercial and contractual topics, dollars per year through the free BIMCO. In every issue, Support and Advice shares some of the guidance it frequently gives to BIMCO members. Is your contractual partner or the broker fake? BIMCO is regularly confronted with cases where members are at risk of being tricked to pay large amounts of money into bank accounts allegedly held, for example, by an agent in an agreed load port (which, however, is a scam). Regrettably, often the fraud is only detected after payment has taken place. BIMCO has also previously warned members about situations where fake “brokers” will attempt to trick owners into fixtures where no cargo is available. An example of a typical scam is when the owner is requested to make prepayments, for example by covering “liner in” costs or settling proforma disbursements before the ship arrives at the loading port. Do you know the broker who is offering business for your vessel? It is typical of this type of scams that the broker offering that “perfect” business opportunity may be unknown to the owner and prefers communication by email only. Often, they “pop up out of nowhere” and quote an ideal cargo for a ship in a particular position. BIMCO has seen several reports of cargoes being offered at favourable rates, with terms negotiated in a relatively convincing manner. However, when the vessel arrives at the loading port, no cargo is available, the alleged “port agent” is unknown to the local agents and the fixing “broker” has disappeared with the advanced funds. Please bear in mind that, in some instances, cargoes may initially be fixed on, for example, “free in” terms during a seemingly normal process - which may even include the charterers’ subjects on the deal. Shortly after, or perhaps when lifting the subjects, the “broker” may come up with an additional cargo at an attractive freight rate. This is often based on liner terms with a requirement for an advance payment. Sometimes forceful requests for additional advance funds are also made – under various pretences – in addition to “liner in” expenses. Communication is, as already mentioned, usually carried out by email but we have heard of situations where the “broker” has responded to phone calls. The fraudster may also provide a phone number and email addresses of other “owners” who have purportedly fixed with this company and who can supposedly provide references and “confirm” that what is being offered is genuine business with a bona fide charterer. In other situations, the owners may perhaps be urged by the scammer to call the alleged agent at the load port for information about how to remit the requested amount, and so on. While it is not possible to discover exactly how many individuals are involved with a scam, the phone numbers provided lead directly to other fraudsters, being part of the con, and not real owners, agents or charterers. Sometimes fraudsters’ attempts to make a scam seem genuine can backfire: we have seen email correspondence where a company disclaimer had been added that included a link to a page relating to how the firm treated information, for example in accordance with GDPR rules. Unfortunately – for the fraudster – the text in the link appeared to have been copied from a genuine company’s email since it led directly to that firm’s branded information page. There may also be other giveaways that indicate the “broker” is not real; often the same phone numbers and email addresses are used for different “companies” and hence they may become recognisable after a time. Be alert! Check your counterpart and other stakeholders In general, be particularly wary if you are asked to remit funds to a third country that has no apparent connection with any of the parties to the fixture or the loading or discharging ports. This is also relevant if a sudden request is made to change the account into which funds are to be paid. Always check carefully that the account provided makes sense in the circumstances – an unknown agent requesting money in country “B” when, for example, loading in country “A” should raise suspicion. Use the phone and check with other contacts or agents well known to you. We are aware of situations where several owners have been tricked at the same time to let their ships proceed to the alleged load port just to wait for cargo that never arrived. Only when another (genuine) agent was contacted did it become clear that the days steaming to the load port had been in vain and the proforma disbursement remitted had disappeared. Keep in mind that fraudsters sometimes abuse the name of real companies and “fix” in the name of a large, well-known charterer. The real company is obviously unaware of this, so it is generally a good habit to investigate thoroughly any cargoes suggested, particularly if the broker is completely unknown. Since we regularly see such scams, BIMCO has built up useful information that can help spot if you are being approached by a fraudster. We encourage members to get in touch with us if they are in any doubt about the credentials of a broker and to inform us should they have been tricked so we can assist fellow members in the future. Support and Advice guides BIMCO members on contractual issues and disputes. Every year, the team answers more than 3,000 questions related to commercial and contractual topics, including company information. It also helps in the collection of several million dollars per year through the free BIMCO intervention service. In every issue, Support and Advice shares some of the guidance it frequently gives to BIMCO members. Relevant links (forBIMCO): Charteringfraud(bimco.org) members How to avoid cargo fraud (bimco.org) Connect with BIMCO Facebook Linkedin YouTube