Published: 10:00, 20 November 2015
| Updated: 10:06, 20 November 2015
A family publishing business was conned out of more than £30,000 after fraudsters impersonated its boss and persuaded staff to make direct bank transfers to fake clients from the company’s accounts.
Kennedy’s Publications, which produces chocolate-focused trade magazine Kennedy’s Confection, which traces its roots back 120 years, was left with just £8,000 in the bank after the deception and unable to pay the month’s bills of £25,000.
Angus Kennedy, the company’s owner and self-styled Willy Wonka of Kent thanks to his chocolate-tasting occupation, said the firm was “on its knees”.
He has begun searching for a cheaper office and told the company’s six staff they will not be paid a Christmas bonus this year.
The firm only moved to its base in Kings Hill two years ago after their previous site at the Hop Farm, near Paddock Wood, was damaged during the flooding of Christmas 2013.
“I just went pale. I knew straight away something was seriously wrong...”, Angus Kennedy, Kennedy's Publications
Mr Kennedy, of London Road, Maidstone, said: “I’m probably the unluckiest businessman in Kent. It is making me think seriously about whether I want to own a business any more. It has really hit hard.”
The deception occured over two days last month, when the company’s bookkeeper received an “angry” email from Mr Kennedy’s account asking for funds to be transferred quickly.
The fraud did not come to light until Mr Kennedy returned from a speaking engagement in the USA a week later.
He said: "When I got back the first thing my new bookkeeper said to me was ‘Angus, you need to look at these payments’.
“I just went pale. I knew straight away something was seriously wrong.”
Police are carrying out a criminal investigation into the losses, which the firm’s bank HSBC said are unrecoverable because the payments were made by direct transfer from the company’s account.
If the fraud had been carried out on a credit or debit card, the losses would have been insured.
“£30,000 is a huge percentage of our profits,” said Mr Kennedy, whose firm has a turnover of about £500,000 a year.
“Two years’ work has just vanished. It’s gone up in smoke.”
Mr Kennedy said his family faces a frugal Christmas. He and his wife Sophie, who is also a director in the business, are considering whether they can still afford to send their children to private schools.
He said: “I don’t know what I can afford. It is a nightmare.
“But out of every bad thing there’s a good thing. We have had a lot of compassionate sales. People have said they feel sorry for us and paid us straight away.
“We have got nice customers who have been brilliant with us.”