12 Jan 2018

Fraudsters, rogues and thieves

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The internet has presented fraudsters with a range of new ways to trick and scam unsuspecting consumers and companies. Most people are familiar with the “classic” scams, such as those concerning Nigerian princes, free iPods or recently deceased wealthy intestate people sharing your surname, and so know to give these scams a wide berth.  However, fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and the scams ever more complex, meaning that it is easy for even the most cautious to fall afoul of these scams.

Below are some tips for:

  • how to avoid being scammed in the first place; and
  • what to do if you discover that you have been scammed;
  • what we at Stephenson Harwood can do to help you get your money back.

How do I avoid being scammed in the first place?

  • Be aware of, and educate your employees about these scams. The UK National Fraud Intelligence Bureau administers the “Action Fraud – National Fraud & Cyber Crime Reporting Centre” website, which has a comprehensive list of common frauds and the forms they take. In addition to the more traditional frauds such as pyramid and Ponzi schemes, we have also seen clients who have fallen afoul of the following frauds, which are less well known:
    • Account takeover: An account takeover can happen when a fraudster or computer criminal poses as a genuine customer, gains control of an account and then makes unauthorised transactions.
    • Fake invoice scams: Fake invoice scams happen when fraudsters send an invoice or bill to a company, requesting payment for goods or services.
  • Be vigilant in ensuring that the sender of the email has sent that email – check that the domain name and sender is exactly as you would expect (for example, if an email has been sent from an internal email address, double check that it exactly matches your company’s email convention).
  • Be wary of emails that seem to be sent from familiar people, but from a different domain, often accompanied with justifications like “I’m working from home today” or “this is my personal account”.
  • Don’t be afraid to listen to your instincts. If you get an email which seems strange, it probably is. Keep in mind that these modern day scammers are sophisticated, and their emails will be too. The scammers know as well as you do that emails in broken English starting with “Greetings Dear Friend” are unlikely to lure you in. Take the time to satisfy yourself it is legitimate.
  • Double check the content of the email by a medium other than email, especially if that email is asking you to do something out of the ordinary, such as transferring a large sum of money, or money to a new account number in the name of an existing supplier. Pick up the phone, or speak to your regular point of contact face to face to confirm that. Give yourself as much comfort as you need to ensure that things are in order. Remember you are unlikely to be reprimanded for being thorough.
  • Do a search on the internet. Many fraudsters recycle their scams – names, bank account details, beneficiaries etc.  A quick internet search could be all it takes to reveal the scam.
  • Don’t be pressured into circumventing your company’s usual controls, especially when it comes to transferring money. These controls are in place for a reason. Observe your company’s policies concerning payments and authorisations. If you receive an email urging you to disregard these controls, again, check with someone within your organization that the present circumstance is both legitimate and exceptional to warrant such an action.

But what do I do if I have been scammed?

As soon as you discover that you have fallen victim to a scam, notify the following parties as soon as possible:

  • The bank from which the money has been transferred. It is sometimes possible for your bank to reverse the transfer before it hits the receiver’s account;
  • The receiving bank. However, it is most likely that you will require the assistance of other parties (such as solicitors, the police and/or the Embassy – see below) to secure the assistance of the receiving bank; and
  • The police in your home jurisdiction. In Hong Kong, the Joint Financial Intelligence Unit of the Hong Kong Police deals with these kinds of matters. They in turn may refer the matter to international crime authorities such as Interpol.

Additionally, in the likely event that the receiving bank is in a different jurisdiction to your own, you should also contact, as a matter of urgency:

  • The police in the receiving bank’s jurisdiction. Alternatively, you can request your solicitors or the police in your own jurisdiction to make contact; and
  • The Embassy or Consulate in the jurisdiction of the receiving bank. These diplomats may have connections to high ranking officials within government or banks and may be able to provide assistance in navigating unfamiliar bureaucratic processes

How can Stephenson Harwood help me to get my money back?

Stop your money leaving the country in the first place

While the police often have powers to freeze a bank account, it is advisable that you instruct your lawyers to obtain an urgent civil injunction from a Court in the receiving bank’s jurisdiction to freeze that account yourself.  Again, this should be done as soon as possible, as it is much easier to stop the money from leaving the account then it is to try and trace it after it has left (and often onto a new country) (for more on this see the next section).

The Courts in many jurisdictions are prepared to deal with urgent matters 24/7 and on extremely short notice. The Hong Kong Courts have extensive experience in cases such as these and are usually willing to grant wide-ranging orders, including the freezing of bank accounts, at least on a temporary basis until the matter can come back before the Court for a substantive hearing.

Your solicitors can also act as your liaison and coordinate the efforts between the police and banks, both in their home jurisdiction and abroad.

Trace your money’s onward journey

If you haven’t been able to stop your money in time, all hope is not lost, although it will be more difficult and costly to recover the funds.

Stephenson Harwood can assist in obtaining Court orders against the bank(s) in Hong Kong to disclose the onward destination of the funds, and can help you to pursue any fraudsters who are physically present or have assets in Hong Kong. If the money has left Hong Kong, then you will need to retain new solicitors who are qualified in that particular jurisdiction to help you. Again, Stephenson Harwood is able to act as your liaison to coordinate the efforts of the police, banks and solicitors in other jurisdictions.

Take home message

Time is of the essence. If the above steps are taken as soon as possible, there is a chance that your money will be able to be recovered.  The fraudsters will often transfer the stolen money through a number of different accounts in quick succession in an attempt to make it difficult to trace. This can and often does frustrate efforts to trace the money and freeze it in its present location.

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KEY CONTACT

Elizabeth Hackney

Elizabeth Hackney
Senior associate

T:  +852 2533 2760 M:  Email Elizabeth | Vcard Office:  Hong Kong

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