Procurement · 21 September 2015

UK’s biggest telephone scam cons Suffolk business out of £1m

A conman managed to gain the trust of an employee during a simple yet sophisticated scam
A conman managed to gain the trust of an employee during a simple yet sophisticated scam

A business in Suffolk has become the victim of a million-pound scam, after a caller pretending to be from the firm’s bank managed to con a member of staff into handing over £1m.

The impersonator claimed there was a virus on the company’s internet banking facility, before advising an employee that the firm’s money should be moved into separate holding accounts while the bank fixed the issue. After gaining the trust of the member of staff involved, the caller then told them to download remote access software on a computer at the business.

This software helped the caller to access the firm’s accounts and transfer the money into other accounts, according to a Suffolk Police spokeswoman. The conman was savvy enough to disguise his own telephone number too, instead showing the number of the bank’s fraud team – which was on its website.

After realising the money had disappeared, the firm contacted the police last week, and the spokeswoman said staff had been left “understandably distressed”. It is believed to be the largest ever amount from a telephone banking scam in the UK, though research earlier in the year found similar scams saw fraudsters steal more than £23m from members of the public.

Often claiming a fraud had been detected on a victim’s bank account, the conmen would tell people to act fast and move money into a “safe account”.

While the scam seems simple, figures pulled together by anti-fraud agency Financial Fraud Action found it was a wide-scale problem.

Katy Worobec, director of FFA, said: “More and more people have heard about the dangers of phone scams and how they work, but unfortunately there is still a significant number who are unaware that highly-professional criminals are systematically targeting members of the public to deceive them out of their savings.”

Fiona Manby, a partner at Manby International Sportswear, told Business Advice about her experience of being a victim of cyber invoice fraud, reflecting just how sophisticated some cyber crimes are becoming when targeting businesses.

Things to bear in mind when you may be suspicious of a call are that banks and police will never ask someone to withdraw money or move across to them for safe-keeping, even if they claim it will be held in that person’s name. Similarly, they won’t send someone to a person’s home to collect cash, payment card or pin number if they are a victim of fraud.

The police spokeswoman advised: “Don’t be afraid to hang up on unknown callers. Genuine callers will understand if you want to call them back later, after checking existing paperwork to confirm numbers, to check their identity.”

This newest example was a “salient reminder” that businesses too are victims of crime according to Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore. He added that the damage to the firm involved was “potentially huge”, while warning cyber crime was “perhaps the biggest threat society faced”.

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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