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Businessman victim of £11,000 impersonation scam

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Fraud is, unfortunately, on the increase affecting businesses as well as individuals. Victims are often persuaded to send money to fraudsters in increasingly sophisticated scams. Recently, a candlemaker from Northern Ireland was conned out of thousands of pounds after a scammer posed as someone from his business’ accountancy firm.

Michael Morris, who owns Bearded Candlemakers, has been in business for almost a decade. He recently posted on social media about being the victim of a ‘horrendous scam’ and urged others to be vigilant. His story has also been reported in the press.

Business survey

Mr Morris filled in what he believed to be a legitimate survey from his council aimed at connecting local businesses. The survey asked for the names of his usual suppliers and professional advisers, including his accountant. The paperwork contained other recommended businesses and Mr Morris had no reason to believe that it wasn’t genuine.

Some time later, a man claiming to be from Mr Morris’ accountancy firm visited his candle making studio, offering to help with VAT returns and to set up other payments relating to the business, for things like rent and bills. He used the name of an employee at the accountancy firm, who Mr Morris had previously dealt with by email and telephone but had never actually met in person. The accountancy employee appeared to be knowledgeable and professional, and Mr Morris was unsuspecting.

When Mr Morris realised that payments were not being made into his business account as expected, he began to investigate. He soon discovered that the money was missing and worried he’d been the victim of fraud, he asked the police for help. They discovered that the money had been directed into cryptocurrency accounts, meaning it could not be traced further, or recovered. Mr Morris realised that he had been the victim of an elaborate scam from the man pretending to be from the accountancy firm.

Facing significant financial losses following the scam, Mr Morris turned to generous customers, friends and family by setting up a GoFundMe campaign. Thankfully he was able to recover the money he lost through the donations.

Sympathising with Mr Morris’ situation some of the donors’ comments included: “This is a nightmare and it could happen to anyone” and “Well done for sharing as it may prevent others from being scammed”.

Impersonation scams are one example of Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud, where an account holder has been tricked into authorising an instant payment to another account believing the recipient to be someone they were not. In this case, Mr Morris shared his details with someone he genuinely thought was an employee from his business’ accountants.

The payments were swiftly made into cryptocurrency accounts, making tracing them virtually impossible. When alarm bells started to ring that there may be an issue with the transactions, it was too late.

Banks have a duty to protect their customers from scammers and they should be the first port of call for help. As Mr Morris did in this case, scams should also be urgently reported to the police. Suspected scamming activity can be reported to Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre. If following a criminal investigation, a prosecution is successful, the court can award compensation.

But this is not always possible, particularly if the scammer is overseas or has no assets with which to pay compensation. As in this case, if the money is paid into a cryptocurrency account, it is very difficult to trace.

In addition to the Criminal courts, there may be the basis of a complaint and claim against your bank if you feel that they did not do enough to look after your money. This is because banks must apply due diligence to prevent such scams happening in the first place. They should have processes in place to delay or block payments, particularly if the account holder is vulnerable, or the payment is unusual, uncharacteristic or of high value.

In some cases, if you have lost out to an online Push Payment fraudster, TLW can help claim a refund from the bank. The bank may not agree that they are at fault, but that is not the end of the road for fraud victims.

There have been a number of recent decisions from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), the independent body whose role is to resolve disputes between financial institutions such as banks and their customers. These decisions have highlighted that banks have not done enough to protect their customers from scammers, in turn the fraudsters’ victims have been awarded compensation for their losses.

TLW Solicitors has a specialist team of APP Fraud compensation lawyers who understand the time limits and processes involved in making a claim. If you, a friend or relative have been conned into making payments as a result of a scam, please get in touch for a free and confidential, no obligation discussion.

You can call us on 0800 169 5925, email info@tlwsolicitors.co.uk or complete one of the forms below.

It is important to get advice as soon as possible as strict time limits can apply.

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