That fund transfer fax could be a scam

PHOTO: That fund transfer fax could be a scam

Housewife Evelyn was jolted from her sleep in the early hours one morning by a call from her relationship manager at ABN Amro.

Evelyn, who is in her 50s, was on a college scouting trip in Britain with her son and husband and was told an e-mail purportedly from her had arrived at the bank, asking for an account balance. She had previously made such requests through e-mail so the relationship manager had replied to the sender.

But the bank later received a faxed instruction with Evelyn's signature asking that funds be transferred to another bank account.

Following usual practice, the relationship manager called Evelyn for verbal confirmation - a move that exposed that the funds transfer request was a scam.

Evelyn, who declined to provide her last name for fear that she might be targeted by scammers again, was shocked because she did not send the e-mail. The transfer was blocked when she told ABN Amro that she had not issued the instruction.

She did not think too much about the incident until a few days later when another relationship manager, this time from the Bank of Singapore, called her and recounted the same scenario.

An e-mail had been sent asking for Evelyn's bank account balance and the relationship manager replied. Faxed instructions were then received to pay out money.

The fax to Bank of Singapore said the instruction was "urgent" and mentioned that Evelyn would be going into a meeting and may not be able to answer calls.

Evelyn then called her daughter who made a police report on her behalf because she was still in Britain.

She told The Sunday Times: "The forged signature (in the faxes to both ABN Amro and Bank of Singapore) was really quite similar, all the curves were there," she said.

"It's just that while my signature is half an inch, the forged one was about one-inch wide. Thankfully my bankers were meticulous and called me again to get verbal recognition, even though they were unable to get me the first time."

A quick check with the police showed such cases seem to be on the rise. In the first three months of this year, there have been six reports where bank customers claimed that fraudsters had hacked into their e-mail accounts and sent instructions to the banks to transfer funds to other accounts in Singapore or overseas. Two reports were received in all of last year.

A police spokesman said funds stolen from these accounts were either sent to accounts overseas or to those of other individuals here. He added: "The individuals whose bank accounts were used to receive the stolen funds are known as 'money mules'. They had been recruited by the fraudsters on social networking websites to receive and transfer the stolen funds."

The Sunday Times understands that white-collar crime cops from the Commercial Affairs Department have sent a circular alerting banks to the increase in the number of such scams.

Mr Patrick Goh, global chief operating officer at Bank of Singapore, said it is aware of cases of banks receiving fraudulent instructions to release funds from client accounts to those held with other banks.

"Bank of Singapore has a comprehensive control framework that ensures that our staff are vigilant in conducting verification checks before acting on clients' instructions, especially when the instructions are issued through remote channels," he added.

"As a result, we have identified and successfully stopped similar fraud attempts on our clients' accounts on several occasions."

Evelyn, who has since set up a new e-mail account, said that she takes extra care to log out properly from any computer and has given additional instructions to her banks to only accept faxed instructions from her home fax machine.

She added: "You only hear about stuff like this happening to other people, but when it happens to yourself, it is quite surreal. It is better to be safe than sorry."

Do not use a password that is easy to crack, and do change it regularly.

Always log out after using public computers.

Do not reveal your particulars or details of bank accounts to anyone.

Be wary of requests for bank accounts, login names and passwords or redirection to Internet links requesting sensitive information. Do not save any personal or confidential information in your online accounts.

Avoid posting personal information in your social networking account profiles.

Install a personal firewall and antivirus programme.

Do not accept and install files from people you do not know.

Exercise caution when accessing unsolicited e-mails.

If you have a business bank account, look out for sudden changes in payment instructions or accounts. Anyone who fails to report suspicious financial activity and knowingly assists the fraudsters may be prosecuted.

Make a police report if someone unknown offers to transfer large amounts of cash to your account. Offers of commission for helping people unknown to you to make fund transfers should be ignored. If you receive a large amount of money in your bank account and you do not know its origin, alert your bank immediately.

songyuan@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.