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Boss issues warning after email con costs business almost £20k

By Gerry Warren

A company director is warning other bosses about an email scam which cost his business almost £20,000.

Tim Hill, from Selling, who runs printing firm Speedscreen in Maidstone, says his accounts department was duped by what appeared to be a genuine instruction from him to make two electronic payments.

It happened while he was in America, which he believes the scammers may have known.

He said: “It really is a very simple but convincing con which, like many of these things, is easier to spot in hindsight.

“It works by the scammers getting hold of and mirroring the chief executive or managing director’s email address and details.

“They send out an urgent message, from the boss to the accounts department, saying a payment must be made into another account immediately.

“They work on the hope that staff will blindly follow the boss’s instruction and not query it.

“In this case, our accounts clerk did question the second request but got an email straight back which appeared quite personal to her, saying ‘just do it’ and that I would sort the paperwork later.

“It seems they may have even researched the company by looking at our website and seeing who’s who and their names.

“It’s a bit of a coincidence that I was away in America at the time and staff weren’t able to speak to me directly but when I think about it now, they could have found that out from my Facebook page.”

Tim, 58, says two payments were instructed to be made over two days and they tried again when he returned from America but this time the accounts department was able to speak to him and the scam was discovered.

He said: “I contacted the bank’s fraud department but they have effectively said there is nothing they can do and the money has gone. Alarmingly, they also told me it was an increasingly common trick so I am surprised and disappointed they can’t seem to do anything about it.

“I personally hold the banks responsible to a high degree. It is supposed to be very difficult to open a bogus current account, so how is it possible that these fraudsters do it with ease and with such regularity?

“It makes a nonsense of the systems in place to prevent such things. They must see these accounts opened and closed within days, with big sums transacted in and out to foreign accounts.”

Tim admits that in hindsight, there were telltale signs which could have triggered alarm bells.

“It really is a very simple but convincing con which, like many of these things, is easier to spot in hindsight" - Tim Hill

He said: “When you hit reply to respond to the email, you can see it’s a gmail address and on re-reading the incoming emails, some of the language used is not what I would say.”

Tim, who has run the company for 30 years and has 18 employees said: “Of course, our accounts lady is mortified but I understand how she must have felt when her boss is apparently instructing her to do something and she doesn’t want to upset him.

“To lose almost £20,000 is a big hit on a small company like ours and I want to put this warning out there so others don’t fall foul of this scam like we did and that accounts departments are aware.”

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