We have come across numerous examples of fraudsters looking to capitalise on the Covid-19 pandemic. This takes many forms, from phishing emails claiming to offer at home testing kits, or apps that claim to monitor you for symptoms of the virus.
However, some fraudulent schemes are more indirect and therefore harder to spot. Advance fee fraud is always a lucrative area for criminals, and with so many people needing to raise additional funds at the moment we have found that fraudsters are using the opportunity to defraud even the most diligent internet user.
We recently came across an unsuccessful attempted advance fee fraud and subsequent aggressive behaviour, which should serve as a useful reminder to potential victims to be extra vigilant.
The attempted fraud
- An individual, Mr X, advertised a machine on eBay for sale for £1,500.
- The fraudster (“Mr F”) offered to buy the machine at full asking price without having viewed it. In normal circumstances this would be unusual for this type of machine, but given the current restrictions on movement it did not raise suspicion. Mr X accepted the offer.
- Mr F then emailed Mr X to explain that he was arranging collection of the machine, at a delivery cost of £500, and so he had added that sum to the purchase price he was transferring via PayPal.
- Mr F asked Mr X to pay the £500 delivery fee to a third party account said to belong to a delivery driver.
- Mr F suggested that Mr X checked his junk mail, in case the PayPal email confirming the transfer of funds had been caught in his email filters.
- Mr X duly checked his junk mail folder and found that he had received an imitation email from PayPal. That email stated that £2,000 would be released to Mr X as soon as he transferred £500 to the designated delivery driver account with a High Street Bank.
- Mr X and his wife were suspicious. They reviewed the emails carefully and noticed slight discrepancies in the imitation PayPal email as against previous genuine emails.
- They also checked their PayPal account and found that there was no sum of £2,500 awaiting clearance.
- Mr X reported the transaction to both PayPal and the High Street Bank where the delivery driver’s account was supposedly located.
- The bank confirmed that they would investigate immediately. The account was to be frozen and the bank would contact the account holder (the supposed “delivery driver”) to see if they were expecting any money. If they confirmed that they were, then the bank would close the account.
- In the meantime, Mr X received increasingly threatening emails (entitled “Urgent why silent”) from Mr F threatening to report Mr X to the police for non-payment.
This is, of course, classic advance fee fraud. An unwitting seller may pay the money to the account mentioned and then not receive the payment from PayPal.
This case study is a warning to other potential victims, including those using eBay or similar sites to raise money in these difficult times, that fraudsters are looking for every opportunity to capitalise on the pandemic. Please ensure that you remain alert to these scams and report any unusual activity so as to protect other potential victims.
For further information raised in this case study, please contact a member of our Dispute Resolution team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah Fitzwilliam is an associate in the Dispute Resolution team. She advises on a broad range of contentious matters involving both individuals and corporate clients. She has experience of litigation in the High Court and of settling disputes through negotiation. Hannah regularly advises on complex and high value disputes, often with a cross-border element.