Friday, 24 September 2010

What's the Difference Between a Letter and an Email?

What's the difference between a letter and an email?  Not a lot if it's a scam.

South Lanarkshire Council has been relieved of £102,000 by an African fraud gang.  The gang sent a letter, (not an email), to the council claiming to be a contractor and informing them of a change in their bank details.  They requested details of the council's bank account in return.  Obligingly a council worker approved the request without doing any checks and £102,000 went out of the council's account and into that of the fraudsters.

Because the crime is classes as an external fraud the council is not covered by its insurance and it's unlikely it will get the money back as these types of offences are notoriously difficult to trace and bring to justice.

The deputy leader of the council's SNP group said:

"The finance department was sent documents on letter headed paper to tell them to change bank details. It's not something I have ever seen before and it wasn't like an e-mail scam, which many people get sent to their home computers. We are not sure who has done this, but it has been professionally done by a gang in an African country."

Of course it was like an email scam.  Thousands of us receive letters and/or emails every day asking us to divulge personal details.  For years now police have warned that we must never give bank details to anyone without checking their authenticity.  All this employee had to do was check the name on the headed paper against the council's database, but it seems like they couldn't be bothered.  That should be one of the golden rules of a finance department.

Graham Horne, the deputy leader continued:

"If the person involved took all the appropriate action then they shouldn't be sacked.

"We will need to investigate if the person did follow the correct procedures.

This incident happened during a week when the local trading standards team was warning householders to be on their guard against letters from people claiming to be the council and informing them that they had been moved into a different council tax band and were entitled to a rebate.  They were then asked...  You know the rest.



Apogee said...

Some one, some where, is now well off and some one else will be feeling very stupid.
First Rule , check details with the supposed originator by any means other than what is suggested by the 'originator'.
If still in doubt,Pass to your supervisor,at least tell them.
Use your brain, trust nothing in an email unless you can prove it from separate sources,especially if its money and the email is unexpected.
Is the email/letter written in a way which does not look quite right, in grammar , phrasing or spelling, double check as financial institutions do not normally employ illiterates.
Remember the old saying... 'you can't fix stupid!

Furor Teutonicus said...


Any one who has ever paid a bill, or anything else to the council, through their bank will have all the councils bank details any way....wont they?

Or do you get their PIN numbers and passwords as well if you ask them nicely?

Also, is this a WONDERFUL case for "Schadenfreud", that the council have fallen for their own "equality rules" by being SOOOO "righteous" that no one DARED suggest that such a request from AFRICA may be ever so slightly dodgy?

subrosa said...

Very true Apogee. I wonder what the address on the letter was.

subrosa said...

Yes they do Furor, or at least they get a remittance advice to use when making payment. There must have been something else given or the Africans knew to use the letter as a form of proof of payment. Then again, the article doesn't say the bank was at fault which they would be in that case.

It is schadenfreud - the costly version.

Clarinda said...

Is the person, who OK'ed the written request, currently on their hols in the Cayman Islands?

Judging by the number of factual and grammatic mistakes I've seen on council documents etc. - I doubt that recognising any oddities, as Apogee suggests, would register with too many bureaucrats?

subrosa said...

That's the level of professionalism we have today Clarinda. But I don't have to tell you that.

Macheath said...

We at the Tavern have long been wondering why so little is done by local authorities to combat phone and postal scams targeting the elderly.

After all, when the victim has parted with sums in the hundreds of thousands (sadly the case with at least two people we know personally) and is now penniless, he or she becomes a drain on the public purse to the tune of up to £50,000 pa in nursing care fees.

We did wonder why their families were met with blank incomprehension when they tried to report it - now all becomes clear.

subrosa said...

Unfortunately these scams continue today Macheath. I've suggested the council send leaflets to all homes telling everyone not to disclose personal information to anyone, but my idea fell on stoney ground. No surprise there.

SadButMadLad said...

Its not because the Council gave their bank details to the scam artists. Its because the council updated their records with the new fake bank details of the "contractor". So when it came round for the council to pay the legitimate contractor, instead of the money going to the right place it went to Africa. So the council is out of pocket, but the contractor is also out of pocket too unless the council pays them "twice" using the correct bank details.

Such a scam is easily stopped by the council double checking with the legitimate contractor.

The company I work for regularly (at least once a month) gets a scam attempt. The accounts department are on the ball and double check everything so they haven't been caught out.

subrosa said...

Thanks so much for the explanation SadButMadLad. Much appreciated.

I've read that the council have refunded the money to the legitimate contractor but sorry, I don't have the link.

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