14 Apr 2019, Hannah Crown
A Kirklees nursery owner who received thousands of pounds from someone posing as a parent has spoken out about this ‘new type of scam’.
The chilling fraud, in which a parent’s bank account was hacked, could leave a nursery liable to a claim from parents, insurance experts said.
The nursery owner, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Nursery World, ‘He introduced himself, giving the parent’s name. He said, “I’ve made this payment of £5,000 into your account by mistake. I meant to pay my brother who has a similar name. Can you send it back? Here are my bank details.” I said don’t worry – if that payment has gone into my account, we will sort it out.’
She told the scammer she would check her bank account and ring him back. ‘It had come through looking like a genuine nursery payment with correct reference,’ she said. Usually banks require extra security before allowing payments to be made to new payees – but, crucially, not existing ones.
However, alarm bells had already started to ring. ‘I know the father quite well’ she added. ‘I thought “this is weird, he doesn’t seem like the dad I know”. This was an Asian guy who was speaking to me, but the father has a broad Manchester accent.’
The nursery owner phoned the father (on a number which didn’t match the caller’s) and informed him that someone had transferred money from his account. ‘He was totally unaware this had happened,’ she said.
Bank details aren’t visible on standing orders, so the owner could not verify the caller’s bank details. The fraud was only fully revealed when the father called his bank. His bank moved the funds from the nursery’s account back to his.
‘The fraudster has been very clever,’ said the owner. ‘Obviously he had managed to get into the dad’s bank account, seen the standing order and Googled me.’
But while the fraud initially sounded plausible, ‘there were other little things that didn’t add up’, the owner said. ‘He said it was £5,000 but actually it was £4,200 – I thought a parent would be more specific. He kept ringing every ten minutes. His phone calls got more aggressive. I knew this parent and he would not be shouting about this.’
Police are investigating and the nursery owner said she hoped the story would be a cautionary tale. ‘If he was just ringing a general accounts department, who is to say they wouldn’t make the transfer? I dread to think what would have happened if it had been a big nursery where they don’t know all the parents.’
Del Sharman, director of Pound Gates Chartered Insurance Brokers, said nurseries could be liable – even as victims of fraud and with the best of intentions – if they transfer money into the wrong account. ‘The most likely outcome if the money had been transferred would be that the parents would have had good grounds to pursue a civil claim in negligence against the nursery to recover the funds.’
Mr Sharman added, ‘Thankfully in this case the nursery quickly realised that something didn’t add up and took the right action.
‘We would always suggest that payments are checked by a minimum of two people before they are issued and that agreed safe words/passwords are in place with parents. This “double-lock” approach will help to avoid the human error element, which is what criminals are preying upon.
‘This story could have ended very differently if the nursery had succumbed to the pressure from the fraudster and transferred the money. Banks are often unable to recover amounts paid to fraudsters.’