Bumbling fraudsters fail to dupe 'Westcost' customers

But channel warned of spike in more sophisticated scams

Fraudsters masquerading as British distie giant Westcoast failed in their attempts to convince resellers to redirect their payments for products and services to a dodgy bank account, the company has confirmed.

The scam was initially spotted by some of Westcoast's customers, who then contacted the distributor. The company has since notified the police and the rest of its clients.

Alex Tatham, sales and marketing director at Westcoast, said trade clients received communication on headed letter paper informing them to send payments to a new "Westcost [sic]" account.

"The letter stated 'Please change your systems so that payments are made into this particular bank account'," he confirmed.

Tatham said the fraudsters were not successful but urged others to remain on the lookout for swindlers: "The channel should maintain a wary eye," he added.

Historically distributors had been heavily targeted by fraudsters due to the scale of their business, but have in recent years developed systems and processes that stymied the effectiveness - so much so that the focus of those shady characters is shifting to resellers.

Fraud is a growth industry, said Alan Norton, head of intelligence at credit reference agency Graydon UK.

Norton said: "We sent out 50 fraud alerts on specific different threats in the IT channel for Q1".

And not all the attempts scams are as poorly executed as the one against Westcoast.

Norton said the methods are evolving - when criminals place orders with distributors or resellers, posing as a company they've researched on Companies House - which they have sometimes hijacked* - they now tend to haggle on price.

He added that the offer of high profit margins for hardware - in an industry where prices and margins are typically falling - was "historically a warning flag" that an order might be too good to be true.

"But now fraudsters have cottoned onto this and will haggle over price to give the order more credibility - this is the first time we are seeing this," said Norton.

P&G Receivables Services runs regular channel forums and at the most recent one, a couple of weeks back, fraud was a hot topic, said divisional director Laurie Beagle.

"All the while there is a recession, fraud is seen as a relatively soft crime from the point of view that if you walk into a bank with a sawn-off shotgun and get caught you'll go to prison for years.

"Fraudsters in a number of cases don't get caught, and if they do they don't get heavy penalties, it's seen as a victimless crime but that is nonsense," he told The Channel.

Eddie Pacey, a near 20-year veteran of credit functions within IT distribution, and now MD at consultancy EP Credit Management, said fraud was certainly more noticeable when times are tough.

"The IT sector in common with others is fertile ground whether one considers third-party fraud, internal fraud, 'long' firm fraud, accounting irregularities, tax avoidance, VAT and HMRC fraud, company hijack, identity theft or the new threats of cybercrime and security," he said.

Pacey added that the only type of fraud in the channel that is in decline is "good old fashioned 'ram-raids' as no one these days keeps inventory." ®

* The fraudsters file some accounts as the company, apply for credit, pay for the first series of orders and then run the scam on subsequent orders.

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