Home News Online criminals spoof university e-mail addresses in six-figure supply chain fraud

Online criminals spoof university e-mail addresses in six-figure supply chain fraud

by Brian Sims

Action Fraud is issuing a warning as reports show that fraudsters are registering domain names to look like they belong to UK university e-mail addresses. UK and European supply companies are being defrauded out of vast sums of money as a result of this. Fraudsters imitating one university’s address realised a total victim loss of over £350,000.

This type of fraud, which is known as European distribution fraud, happens when a company from overseas (usually from Europe) delivers products to the UK, but isn’t paid for the goods or the cost of shipping.

Fraudsters are registering domains that are similar to genuine university domains such as xxxxacu-uk.orgxxxxuk-ac.org and xxxacu.co.uk. These domains are then used to contact suppliers and order high value goods such as IT equipment and pharmaceutical chemicals in the university’s name.

Quotation for goods

Suppliers will receive an e-mail that claims to be from a university, requesting a quotation for goods on extended payment terms. Once the quotation has been provided, a purchase order is e-mailed to the supplier that’s similar to a real university purchase order. The purchase order typically instructs delivery to an address, which may or may not be affiliated with the university. The items are then received by the criminals before being moved on. However, no payment is received by the supplier.

Pauline Smith, director of Action Fraud, said:“This type of fraud can have a serious impact on businesses. This is why it’s so important to spot the signs and carry out all the necessary checks, such as verifying the order and checking any documents for poor spelling and grammar. We know that there’s a lack of reporting by affected companies and, without this vital intelligence, a true picture of European distribution fraud cannot be reflected. If you or your business has been a victim, report it to Action Fraud.”

Protection against European distribution fraud

Ensure that you verify and corroborate all order requests from new customers. Use telephone numbers or e-mail addresses found on the retailer’s website. Do not use the details given on the suspicious e-mail for verification purposes.

If the order request is from a new contact at an organisation that’s an existing customer, verify the request through an established contact to make sure that it’s legitimate.

Check any documents for poor spelling and grammar. This is often a sign that fraudsters are at work.

Every report matters… If you’ve been a victim of European distribution fraud, report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040.

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