How to spot a fraudulent company in the Netherlands
- 30 Mar 2023
- 7 min
- Managing and growing
- Secure business
Advisers from the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce KVK see more and more foreign businesses get scammed by fake companies from the Netherlands. KVK is also often contacted when businesses abroad do not trust a Dutch company. Before doing business with or buying from a Dutch company online, consider if everything is as it seems. Use the tips below to learn about common tricks and find out where to find help.
A fake website called Dutch Registry is trying to steal your money by pretending to sell official Dutch Business Register products. Or to let you register a new company for a large fee. Do not fall for it and do not send them the any personal information.
The only organistation where you can register your business in the Netherlands is KVK.
Always be alert to scammers
It is easy to become the victim of a scam when doing business online. The reality is that many people want to trick you into sending them money. Although impostors are becoming more sophisticated in their approach, there are some aspects they cannot fake or mask. They rely on your ignorance, so it is up to you to check the tell-tale signs and uncover their tricks. Which signs should set off an alarm bell when doing business with an ‘alleged’ Dutch company? Below we list the main ones that we encounter.
Have you received a suspicious email from KVK?
Phishing emails and messages are being sent by fraudsters pretending to be KVK. If you click the link in the message, you are asked to fill in details. Do not open the message, and do not click the links in the email or text message. Forward the message to firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more about these phishing attacks.
What can a company website tell you?
A company website is often your first impression of any business. You should be able to find information here to run some basic checks. For example, you can check who owns the domain name. Does the company website provide any information about the company and their products or services? Are there contact details? There must be a physical contact address given. Are there any links to social media accounts, and are these accounts used? Do they use a lot of business or technical abbreviations? And are these used correctly? Fraudsters will usually build an attractive website to try to fool you. But if you cannot find all the information you would expect to see, take your time and do some extra investigating.
What else can you do with basic information?
Check the KVK’s Business Register
Every business in the Netherlands must be registered in the Business Register. When they register, they are given a unique 8-digit number, called the KVK number. Most Dutch companies list their KVK number on their website. If you intend to do business with a Dutch company, check this number and the company name on the KVK website (enter the name or number into the search field, in Dutch). If the company is registered, at least you know it is a real company. In the Business Register, you can see its:
- Official trading name
- KVK number
- Legal structure
- Main business activities
- Visiting address (except for self-employed professionals whose home address is also their work address)
Do you not see the company on the KVK website? Is the KVK number connected to another company? Or is a different product or service listed? These are serious warning signs. Do not do business with this company.
Important to know: A holding is the ‘parent company’ of one or more operating companies, usually a private limited company (bv). You do business with the daughter companies, not with the holding. Fraudsters like doing business as a holding because it sounds important and convincing. Sometimes they even use the name and KVK number of a real holding that is no longer active but still registered in the Business Register. Keep in mind that a holding company is not an operating company and that you cannot do business directly with a holding. Read more about Dutch business structures.
To see more information about any Dutch business, you can order a business extract for a small fee. Then you can see the phone number, the website address, the email address, and the names of the people in charge.
Do the contact details seem genuine?
The international country code for the Netherlands is +31. Mobile phone numbers in the Netherlands start with 06. If you are being called outside the Netherlands, it will look like +31 6 1234 5678. A Dutch phone number (without +31) consists of 10 digits. Some numbers start with 097 but these have 12 digits and are for machine-to-machine communication. It is easy to check a phone number online. For example, in non-commercial phonebooks, business directories, or sector organisations.
The address on the company’s website should be the same as in the KVK Business register. Are there pictures of the company’s premises on the website? Is it a proper office building, warehouse or factory? Does this match your expectations? Check the address in Google Maps and look at Google Street View. Do you see the same building? If you see a family home in a residential area, something might be wrong.
Check the quality mark or other certification
If you are ordering products from an online store, check if the web store has a certificate. In the Netherlands, there are five certificates (in Dutch). The most common one for online shops is the Thuiswinkel.org certificate. There are also European quality marks (in Dutch). If you come across a certificate you do not know, investigate if it exists, or was created by the online shop itself.
Look for reviews
Search for online reviews of the company and its products or service. For example, reviews collected by search engines, Trustpilot, or different social media channels. It is common for companies to also use their social channels for customer service.
Search for examples of known fraud
If you are suspicious, contact the Dutch Fraud Helpdesk to find out if they have a record of a particular type of scam or fraud. The Dutch police have a search option (in Dutch), where you check a company name. Scroll down the page until you see ‘Controleer hier de status’ (check the status). Type the name of a company and click ‘Controleer’ (check). Green means no cases of fraud are found. Red means it is a known scam.
Also, check if the company you are considering as a business partner is on a blacklist of known fraudsters. Here are two useful websites:
- This list is managed by the Dutch police. It contains websites, bank numbers, and phone numbers of fake internet companies.
- This is a blacklist of ‘companies’ in the Rotterdam port area offering storage space.
Be cautious of important-sounding job titles
Scammers often cannot resist using important-sounding job titles, such as Chief Director of European Sales. Even when there is no sign that there are any other branches or sales divisions. Or has someone with an impressive-sounding title recommended a business to you? Do you know and trust this person? Fraudsters can operate in teams, so be alert. For example, when a fake embassy employee sends out an email to recommend a certain business.
Verify if people are who they claim to be
If employees are shown on the website, see if they have a LinkedIn profile and use the same job title there. If there is a picture of them on the company website, do a reverse image search online and see if this person is connected to another company or another name. Or call the company and ask if this person works for them, or even if they have other branches. In a KVK business extract, you can see the names of directors and also if there are other business locations in the Netherlands.
Be wary of too many stamps and red ink
Paperwork that looks official may well be official. In international trade, it is normal to use standard import and export documents, such as the certificate of origin, road waybill, packing list, phytosanitary certificate, export certificate, etc. One warning sign, however, is that false documents sometimes look very busy. Scammers often use lots of stamps, seals, and signatures from official institutions to try to make a document seem more authentic. Most Dutch companies do not use lots of stamps. And when they do, it is not usually in bold red ink. If in doubt, check any organisations mentioned. Contact them to ask if they signed or stamped your official-looking documents.
When is it safe to pay?
Depending on the goods you buy, sellers will want to receive the money before they ship the goods to you. But are you hesitant to pay because you are uncertain you will receive your goods?
First, check if the invoice contains all the correct information and the correct terms. For example, VAT in Dutch is usually written as ‘BTW’. If you see ‘TBW’ or ‘TVA’, or any other incorrect combination of letters, something is wrong.
If you make a payment and want to play it safe, use a payment method that you can retract. For example a credit card, Paypal and post-payment services that offer buyer protection. Do not use a bank transfer, wire transfer or bitcoin.
Pay for extra checks or security
When working with a genuine Dutch business, you should not have any trouble securing a bank guarantee. This means the money will be paid to the other company once you receive the product. There are costs when applying for, changing, and claiming a bank guarantee. You can also hire an export goods inspection company to do a pre-shipment inspection (PSI). This also costs money. Investing in a PSI or bank guarantee may be worth it if you are going to pay a lot of money to buy goods.
Is the paperwork correct?
Another thing to look out for is that the official documents you receive are the correct ones. Once you place an order, you should be sent an invoice. A proforma invoice is only an estimate or example of an invoice and does not have any legal value. And a quotation, which is only a price offer, does not confirm the commitment of your trading partner to deliver goods in exchange for money.
Always check the documents that you are asked to sign. Certain information must always be recorded in . Make certain this information is correct. Also, check any small print so that you do not miss any agreements or conditions.
Need more help?
Do you need more information or help? Contact the KVK Advice Team.
Have you been the victim of fraud by a Dutch company? Report this to the Dutch police. Call 0900-8844 (+31 343 57 8844 from abroad) or go to the police in your municipality. All forms of fraud or even suspicion of fraud can also be passed to the Fraud Help Desk. (Choose ‘Ik meld namens mijn bedrijf’). They can refer you to other relevant organisations. They record your complaint which can warn others and prevent more victims.