Fraud and scams, it's happening everywhere, also in floriculture. Only a few months ago, the tax office and the police raided three exporters in Aalsmeer, The Netherlands. At the same time, a few houses were searched, from which files, thousands of euros in cash and even firearms and ammunition were discovered. The businesses in question were suspected of large scale fraud, receiving stolen goods, money laundering, bankruptcy and tax fraud - and the investigation is still ongoing.
Bart and Mark Weitjens28,000 potential fraudsters
Such practices are as old as the hills and there have always been organisations in place to prevent it from happening. One of those is Maranta Debt Collectors, a debt collection agency that is specialised in detecting untrustworthy trading partners. Mark Weitjens: "My father has worked for more than 30 years in the flower trade. He knows it like the back of his hand and has, like many others in the sector, often had experience with scams and fraud. Then it occurred to him that such problems are often coming from the same people and were being carried out in the same way. To cut a long story short, in addition to our debt collection services, we set up Agro-Check a few years ago. Agro-Check has a database with more than 28,000 businesses worldwide in the flower and plant sectors. The primary aim is to put defaulters, scammers and other doubtful debtors on a warning list. Members from each country can search in this database (membership costs just € 285 per year) and they can avoid a lot of potential problems."
In addition to the database, members also get a number of new debtor requests (for businesses that are not or not fully on the list) and they are informed if there are new scams taking place via a newsletter. "Names are never mentioned in there. That is not allowed: the newsletters are purely intended as a warning, only our members have access to the full business details." It's not always about fraud, but often also about debtors who simply don't have enough money. "You can imagine that there are a lot of problems with trade with Greece, or with Russia - in that area, there are a lot of payment problems. With our newsletters, we monitor such developments."
Maranta Debt Collectors
Maranta Debt Collectors is primarily busy with national and international debt collection services. "That is our biggest task. This information can also be used for Agro-Check. Our work therefore consists of a lot of research and following up information from our clients. We look into how the business is put together, link up addresses and personal details from different businesses and try to form links. If we get on the trail of something, then there are also links with official bodies - in the Netherlands, but also outside. We know how scammers work and what flower traders need to be looking out for."
The business works together with a big Dutch bank and credit insurers, where they help them during bankruptcies to collect the debts. "This also provides input for our Agro-Check database. Almost all of our debt collection services are for growers and exporters. The other 20% is for suppliers, in particular transport, and increasingly also businesses from the vegetable and fruit sector."