Author Mark Fairlie

Cybersecurity experts are warning British consumers and businesses of the very real threat of theft by email scammers.

In a case reported by the Guardian, a Chelmsford couple lost £120,000 when sending money to what they believed was their solicitor’s treasury account for a home purchase. After the transfer had taken place, the fake account into which the money was transferred was emptied at a rate of £20,000 a day until it was empty.

How does the email scammers fraud work?

Email frauds were originally targeted towards business. And, according to Action Fraud, 994 reports were made on a scam called “CEO fraud”.

CEO fraud, or business email crime, has cost companies more than $2bn over the last two years worldwide, according to the FBI and as covered by the FT. How it works varies in every case but a fairly standard defrauding procedure is as follows:

  1. The fraudster will send an email to a staff member in a finance department of a company pretending to be that company’s managing director.
  2. The email will stress the urgency that a certain supplier has to be paid now or they may risk losing their supply agreement.
  3. They will transfer the money and, before it’s too late, realise that it was not their managing director who contacted them and the bank account did not belong to the supplier.

The Daily Mail reported on a British healthcare products company with a global presence which was defrauded of £18.5m in a similar scam.

In July 2016, a fraudster, pretending to be a senior member of staff, phoned a financial controller in the company’s Scottish offices asking her to transfer money to Hong Kong, China, and Tunisia. The transfer took place after a series of calls and emails with the fraudster. The money was never recovered.

In March 2017, a Lithuanian man was arrested for stealing £77m from Google and Facebook by sending the companies emails from accounts designed to appear as if they had come from an Asia-based supplier.

Consumers being hit by increasingly sophisticated fraudsters

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, £3m was stolen in 45 incidents of conveyancing fraud in 2016, more than double the previous year. But it’s not just conveyancing fraud that consumers are being increasingly faced with.

A fake Netflix email is circulating which takes recipients to a fake log-in page which then asks for their bank details.

The Manchester Evening News website picked up on a scam which has already cost its victims substantial amounts of money. Recipients receive an email claiming they have made a high-value purchase on Amazon and, if they wish to have a refund, they should enter their details onto the company’s website. However, the website itself is a fake and scammers defrauds their victims after they have successfully collected users’ names, addresses, and credit/debit card details.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) and Action Fraud have issued a warning, reported on AOL, that consumers should not reply to an email claiming to be from their local authority offering council tax refunds.

Speaking to Mirror Money, Stephen Profitt, deputy head of Action Fraud, reported that the number of reports on council tax “phishing” emails and email scammers are continuing to rise.

“We would advise people to be cautious when opening emails and opening attachments – don’t assume that anyone who’s sent you an email is who they say they are. Please don’t click on links in those emails.”