Police are urging businesses to “take the fraud test” after it emerged conmen have fleeced North-east firms out of more than £520,000 in the last six months.
The Evening Express can reveal that fraudsters have targeted the region using sophisticated phone scams which have fooled 48 victims since last August.
Figures show those victims have unwittingly handed over at least £527,842 to criminals posing as representatives of legitimate firms – and police are asking companies to get their staff to listen to a hard-hitting audio recording which demonstrates one of the scammers in action – to see if the smooth-talking offender would fool them too.
In the call, a man claiming to represent a financial security firm named Bankline alerts the female member of staff to apparent fraudulent payments made from her company.
He says: “There has been a log-in (to your account from Aberdeen) that has been setting up two payments and the location is different (to where you’re based in the North-east) so we’re trying to confirm if you’ve set up these two payments.”
Alarmed by news that more than £13,000 has been taken from the company, the woman complies with the man and answers a wide range of questions – and volunteers information about the firm’s financial transaction.
The man tells her a card reader has been requested for an address different to her business’ location.
He reassures the woman that the two fraudulent payments will be refunded and that he will send a new card reader.
The conversation goes on for almost five minutes before the woman asks if she can call the man back.
“Obviously, you’re telling me all this and I’m a little bit concerned,” she says, before the conversation ends.
In such scams, fraudsters can use passwords and other sensitive information provided by the company to steal funds.
They can also use the equipment sent out to transfer money – or use the apparent “anti-virus” software to hold the company’s IT system hostage and demand a ransom fee.
Police Scotland has told the Evening Express that, last August, five companies in the region were conned out of a total of £1,395.12. The following month, 13 firms lost £174,555.50
Then in October, two businesses lost a total of £29,774.80. In November, 13 companies were targeted and lost £214,917.
In December, four firms were fleeced out of £105,805. The most recent figures, covering January, show there were 11 reported frauds and £1,395.12 was stolen.
These figures include cold calls from fraudsters pretending to be from HMRC or PPI companies, BT or Talk Talk.
A Police Scotland spokesman said: “The total loss over this period was £527,842.42.
“We want businesses to listen to this audio clip. Are you confident you’d know it was a scam?
“Fraudsters can be very convincing so if you are called out of the blue, take your time and call back. As well as telephone frauds, businesses can also be vulnerable to fraudsters impersonating genuine supplier organisations.
“Fraudsters will clone e-mail addresses by creating accounts with very similar details, often only changing a letter or changing a number or symbol, in order to appear as a legitimate organisation.
“Businesses are then duped into paying invoices that appear to have been sent from legitimate organisations.”
Detective Inspector Iain McPhail, from Police Scotland’s economic crime unit, said: “It’s very easy to be tricked by fraudsters using e-mail addresses that are very similar to genuine organisations you may deal with.
“Always check the address of the e-mail sender and don’t provide banking details over the phone.
“You should never move money to a ‘safe account’ as this will be an account set up by fraudsters.
“If you do suspect you’ve been a victim of fraud, you should contact your bank and report it to police on 101.”
A spokesman for ActionFraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, said: “Some fraudsters will call your landline or mobile, pretending to be from your bank, building society, a government agency or someone you do business with. This is known as vishing (voice + fishing).
“Our advice would be – don’t assume anyone who’s called your phone or left you a voicemail message is who they say they are.”
He added: “Never call numbers or follow links provided in suspicious e-mails.
“Report suspicious contacts on 0300 123 2040.”