What Is Fraudulent Trading For A Limited Company?

Dan Nailer
Dan NailerLegal Assessment Specialist
Updated on 28th May 2024

Are you a director or shareholder of a limited company in the UK? Do you want to ensure that your business operates within the bounds of the law and avoids potential legal pitfalls? 


In this article, we’ll explore the concept of fraudulent trading for a limited company so you can take proactive steps to ensure compliance with the law, protect your company’s reputation, and mitigate the risk of financial penalties or personal liabilities. 

What is fraudulent trading? 

Fraudulent trading, under UK company law, refers to a serious offence where individuals knowingly engage in business activities with the intent to defraud creditors or for any fraudulent purpose.

This typically involves a deliberate effort to deceive creditors, investors, or other stakeholders by misrepresenting the financial position or performance of a company. 

Fraudulent trading occurs when directors or officers of a company knowingly dishonestly operate the business, to gain an unfair advantage or cause harm to others. This can include actions such as falsifying financial statements, concealing liabilities, misappropriating company funds, or engaging in deceptive business practices. 

It is a criminal offence and carries severe penalties including fines, disqualification, and imprisonment. 

What is the difference between fraudulent trading and wrongful trading? 

The key element of fraudulent trading is the intention to deceive or defraud others for personal gain or to the detriment of creditors or stakeholders. Wrongful trading, however, does not necessarily involve deliberate deceit or fraudulent intent. Instead, it arises from a failure to act in the best interests of creditors when a company is insolvent. 

This distinction is important as fraudulent trading is a criminal offence under the Companies Act 2006, while wrongful trading is a civil offense under the Insolvency Act. 

In summary, while both fraudulent trading and wrongful trading involve misconduct in the management of a company, they differ in terms of intent, legal consequences, and the circumstances under which they arise.

Fraudulent trading involves intentional deceit or fraud, while wrongful trading involves trading while insolvent without proper regard for creditors’ interests. 

What are the consequences of fraudulent trading for directors of a limited company? 

Directors convicted of fraudulent trading may be: 

  • Ordered to pay substantial fines by the courts. 

  • Held personally liable for debts incurred during the period of fraudulent activity. 

  • Disqualified from acting as directors of any company for up to 15 years.

  • Imprisoned for up to 10 years.

What are the signs of limited company fraud?

Common signs of limited company fraud include: 

  • Unaccounted-for transactions or discrepancies in financial records. 

  • Excessive or false expense claims by directors or employees.

  • Unusual accounting practices or sudden changes in accounting methods without clear justification. 

  • A sudden and unexplained increase in revenue. 

  • Overly optimistic financial forecasts that seem unattainable.

  • Inconsistent or unaccounted cash inflows and outflows. 

  • Invoices from suppliers or sales to customers that do not exist. 

  • Inflated valuation of company assets such as property, inventory, or intellectual property. 

  • Hidden debts or obligations that are not recorded. 

  • Use of company funds for personal expenditures or benefits for directors, family members, or friends. 

  • Transactions conducted without proper authorisation. 

  • Directors or employers are secretive about business activities or financial matters. 

  • Avoidance or resistance to external audits or reviews. 

  • Frequent changes in key personnel, particularly in finance or accounting roles. 

  • Directors continue business operations despite knowing the company can’t pay its debts. 

  • Late submission or non-filing of statutory returns and financial statements. 

  • Selling company assets for significantly less than their market value. 

  • Transactions with related parties that are not conducted at arm’s length or lack property documentation. 

  • Poor maintenance of financial records. 

What is short-term fraud in a limited company? 

Short-term fraud refers to fraudulent activities within a company that occurs over a brief period.

Unlike long-term fraud, which is often part of a more elaborate and prolonged scheme, short-term fraud is typically characterised by quick, opportunistic actions intended to gain immediate financial benefits. 

Common examples include: 

  • Placing large orders with suppliers on credit, knowing the company has no intention or ability to pay for the goods or services received. 

  • Quickly siphoning off company funds for personal use. 

  • Accepting deposits or payments from customers for products or services with no intention of delivering them. 

  • Selling company assets at undervalue or to related parties just before the company becomes insolvent to avoid these assets being used to pay creditors.

What is long-term fraud in a limited company?

Long-term fraud in a limited company refers to fraudulent activities that are sustained over an extended period, often involving complex schemes designed to deceive stakeholders and manipulate financial statements.

Long-term fraud is typically more sophisticated, and methodically planned, and can cause substantial damage to the company, its stakeholders, and the wider market.

Common examples include: 

  • Manipulating financial reports to present a false picture of the company's financial health. 

  • Using funds from new investors to pay returns to earlier investors.

  • Repeatedly submitting false expense claims or inflating business expenses to misappropriate company funds.

What should I do if I suspect fraudulent trading in my company?

If you have reason to believe that your company is engaged in fraudulent trading, first document any suspicious transactions, activities, or behaviour to substantiate your claims.  Then, seek legal advice. A corporate law solicitor can help you investigate the matter, gather evidence, and take appropriate action to protect the interests of the company and its stakeholders. 

What happens next may depend on the advice you are given. You may have to:

  • Report concerns to the company’s insolvency practitioner or official receiver.

  • Conduct an internal investigation with the help of an independent inspector or forensic accountant. 

  • Report criminal conduct to the police or regulatory agencies. 

  • Take steps to prevent further losses or harm, like freezing bank accounts.

  • Notify your insurer of any suspected fraud and follow their procedures for filing a claim. 

Depending on the findings of your investigation, you may choose to take legal action against the individuals or parties responsible. This could include pursuing civil litigation to recover damages or seeking injunctive relief to prevent further harm to the company.

At Lawhive, our network of expert lawyers is on hand to provide fast, affordable legal advice through our easy-to-use online platform. Contact us today for more information and a free, no-obligation fixed-fee quote. 

Creditors can initiate civil action against a company and its directors alleging fraudulent trading. In such lawsuits, creditors typically seek monetary damages to compensate for the losses they have suffered as a result of the fraudulent conduct. These damages may include the amount owed to the creditor, as well as any additional costs or expenses incurred due to the fraudulent activity.

Creditors may also file winding-up petitions with the court seeking to wind up the company and liquidate its assets to satisfy their debts. If the court determines that the company has engaged in fraudulent trading, it may order the company to be wound up, and its assets distributed among creditors according to their priority.

In cases where the company is insolvent or facing financial difficulties, creditors may initiate insolvency proceedings, such as administration or liquidation, to recover their debts. If fraudulent trading is discovered during the insolvency process, the appointed insolvency practitioner may investigate the matter further and take appropriate action to hold the responsible parties accountable.

Creditors may also cooperate with regulatory authorities, such as the Insolvency Service or the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to report instances of fraudulent trading and provide evidence to support investigations and enforcement actions.

How can I prevent fraudulent trading within my company?

Preventing fraudulent trading within your company requires a proactive approach to establishing robust internal controls, promoting a culture of integrity and accountability, and implementing effective risk management strategies. Here are some steps you can take to prevent fraudulent trading:

  • Develop comprehensive policies and procedures that outline ethical standards, compliance requirements, and expectations for employee conduct.

  • Implement internal controls and checks and balances to prevent unauthorised access to company funds, assets, and sensitive information.

  • Conduct regular audits and reviews of financial records, transactions, and operations to identify any irregularities or suspicious activities.

  • Encourage employees to report any suspected instances of fraud or unethical behavior through established channels, such as whistleblower hotlines or anonymous reporting mechanisms.

  • Exercise due diligence when selecting vendors and suppliers and regularly review and monitor their performance and financial stability. 

  • Provide ongoing training and education to employees on fraud awareness, detection, and prevention techniques. 

  • Help employees recognsze the warning signs of fraudulent behavior and empower them to speak up if they suspect wrongdoing

  • Implement robust cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive company data and information from unauthorized access, manipulation, or theft. 

  • Conduct thorough background checks on employees, particularly those in positions of trust or with access to sensitive information or financial resources.

  • Demonstrate a commitment to ethical conduct and integrity at all levels of the organization, starting from the top. 

  • Take immediate action to investigate and address any red flags or warning signs of fraudulent activity that arise. 

What should I do if I have been accused of fraudulent trading? 

If you have been accused of fraudulent trading, immediately seek legal advice from a corporate lawyer. A solicitor can provide personalised guidance based on the circumstances and prepare a robust defence.

Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may explore the possibility of reaching a settlement with the accusers or negotiating a resolution that avoids protracted litigation. Your solicitor can advise you on the potential benefits and risks of settlement options.

If the allegations are being investigated by regulatory authorities or police, cooperate fully with their inquiries while protecting your legal rights. You should provide truthful and accurate information to the extent required by law, but be cautious not to incriminate yourself. 

Is there a statute of limitations for prosecuting fraudulent trading offences?

There is no specific statute of limitations for prosecuting fraudulent trading offenses.

Fraudulent trading is a serious offense, and the lack of a statutory time limit means that legal proceedings can be initiated at any time, provided sufficient evidence exists to support the allegations.

Get expert advice on fraudulent trading

Fraudulent trading is a serious offence under UK law, carrying severe penalties for those involved. Directors of limited companies must understand the implications of fraudulent trading and take proactive steps to ensure their businesses operate within the bounds of the law. 

How can Lawhive help?

If you suspect fraudulent trading within your company or have been accused of such activities, it's essential to seek professional legal advice immediately. At Lawhive, our network of expert solicitors is here to provide clear, practical advice tailored to your specific situation, helping you understand your legal obligations and options.

Contact us today for fast, affordable legal advice and take the first step towards securing your company's future.

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