What are the main types of scam, and what do charities in particular need to be alert to at the moment? “Phishing (fraudulent emails) and vishing, which is fraudulent phone calls,” says Livesey.
There are two key types of scam that can reach frontline staff and which employees might not be fully aware of, she adds. The first is invoice redirection fraud. “This is where a supplier’s email account will be intercepted and spoofed, and the charity receives an email saying that the supplier has changed its bank account details.”
It might say something along the lines of: ‘When you pay next month’s supply of office equipment, can you send it to this account and sort code?’ followed by the new account details. It’s often only when the genuine supplier chases their money, which could be weeks later, that the fraud will be uncovered.
What should you do if you receive this kind of email? “Call the supplier on a trusted and independently verified number, say you’ve had the email, and ask them if it’s genuine.”
The second type of scam is CEO impersonation. “We see a lot of cases where someone pretends to be the boss,” says Livesey. An email might say something like: ‘I need a payment made urgently but I’m in meetings all day; don’t call me.’ Only when you speak to the boss the next day might they say, ‘I never sent that.’ There has been a sharp rise in the number of such impersonation scams, according to industry body UK Finance; they nearly doubled in the first six months of this year, with almost 15,000 cases reported.
Some £208m was lost in the first half of 2020 to authorised push payment (APP) or bank transfer fraud. However, the banking and finance industry is robustly fighting back, preventing £853m of attempted unauthorised fraud in the same time period. Perhaps the key to vigilance is to understand what criminals want, which is not necessarily as obvious as it might sound. “They want you to divulge information that is valuable – whether personal, company or financial,” says Livesey.
More important now than ever
For Alan Bryce, head of development, counter fraud and cybercrime at the Charity Commission, “those charities that provide vital services and are supporting local communities during the crisis may be especially vulnerable, with scammers increasingly using the ‘hook’ of Covid-19 to lure victims”. However, Bryce adds: “In reality, most of the frauds we’re seeing are adapted versions of the most common scams of recent years, with a Covid-related twist to them. Hence phishing, mandate, grants and procurement fraud are still up there among the priority risks to look out for.”
Something most scams will have in common is that they will create a sense of urgency. This is one of the clues that can make you alert to potential fraud: “It’s designed to rush you, and prevent you from thinking twice,” Livesey says.