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To good to be true? In our latest Scam Watch blog, we offer advice about receiving fake emails from colleagues asking you to buy vouchers that aren’t quite what they seem.
Most people think scams happen online, by clicking on a dodgy text message, link, or email or on the occasional phone call asking for bank details.
However, you’d never expect a direct email from your line manager to be a scam. This is exactly what happened to communications professional Alice.
Alice’s story about fake emails from colleagues
In Alice’s case, a team assistant at a communications firm, the scammers planned their tactics very carefully – and after analysing her relationship with her co-workers, tricked her into purchasing £400 worth of Amazon vouchers.
The scammers had a great attention to detail. They followed the same signature style used in the company and knew everything about Alice’s role and her working relationship to her manager.
When she received an email from what appeared to be her manager’s personal email, she considered it to be real without questioning, as it had a recognisable signature at the end, and addressed Alice as she would normally be addressed.
She says: “In the morning at about 9:10am, I got an email from my manager’s ‘personal’ email, which obviously isn’t our usual work email, but I just thought, ‘Oh, it must be just her personal email.’
“It said: ‘Morning Alice, have nice weekend,’ all the formalities to make me believe it is my manager. It was signed off nearly identical to the way that our emails are all usually signed off. So, I didn’t think it was weird.”
The scammer asked for Alice’s number and then started messaging her on the phone regarding an ‘urgent task’ she needed to do as soon as possible.
Alice was asked to go to the nearest Tesco to buy Amazon vouchers worth of £400. She tried calling the number, but the scammer wouldn’t answer claiming they were very busy at the time.
“I thought this is a weird request, but maybe they need something urgently for a client. I’m quite new here and thought, okay, I guess that’s a thing we do, and it needs to be done urgently. I’ll do it.
“So, I did. I went to the cashier desk, and I bought £400 on Amazon vouchers. It was a lot of money, but I just thought, you know, it’s fine. I’ll get reimbursed from it, and they need it.”
This wasn’t the first time Alice was asked to purchase vouchers from the shop for her company, which made it seem as if it was a routine request. However, this was the first time she was asked to buy them using her own money.
She adds: “I then sent a picture to my manager on Slack on the back of all of the vouchers in case she needs them urgently. Obviously, she asks, ‘what is this?’ – and that’s when the pin drops. I’ve not been speaking to her.”
“I can’t believe they tricked me. This scam was obviously very well planned and thought out. That’s a bit concerning, and also it was a bit concerning that they were able to know all of that information, and our working relationship and everything.”
Alice blocked the number and the email address and was glad to look back and realise she didn’t give any important information to the original email chain or the people who were texting her pretending to be her boss.
She continues: “You expect scams to happen, for people to ring you up, but I just didn’t expect one through work channels.
“Looking back on it I think I probably should have seen the red flags, but I just didn’t question it at the time at all. But in hindsight, I keep thinking ‘Why did I not just check?’”
How to avoid similar scams
There were a few hints that something was wrong when the scammers tried to dupe Alice.
The biggest red flag was getting an email from a colleague, but from a strange address. At this point she could have double checked with her manager over their work chat app to check.
The other major red flag was poor grammar and spelling in communications from the scammer. This is usually a huge giveaway that something isn’t right.
But it isn’t always obvious, and many people do fall victim through no fault of their own.
Scammers find believable tactics to trick people, either through a work email, or a phone call. However, there are more ways to spot even well-planned scams:
- Cold calls, unexpected emails or messages should raise suspicion – especially when you’re asked to provide personal information such as bank details or email addresses. It’s always a good idea to hang up a call from the blue and get in touch with the company directly.
- Never share personal or payment details with anyone on the phone, unless you’re totally sure who it is you’re speaking with.
- Are the details of a website too vague? Fake online shops are a growing problem. Think twice before purchasing something on that site, do your research and look for reviews online.
- Is the offer too good to be true? Then, unfortunately, it most probably isn’t true. This is often the case with scams relating to investments, that promise very high returns ‘guaranteed.’
- If you are pressured into making a decision, then you must think twice about what you are doing – a salesperson will always give you time to think things through. Make a decision in your own time. Pressure tactics usually mean someone is trying to force you into a decision you shouldn’t be making.
- Look out for spelling and grammar errors – those are a scam giveaway. A reputable company would rarely, if ever, make errors, as the emails they send are written and double-checked by professionals.
Dana is a former reporter at Mouthy Money, having previously worked for Times Money Mentor and the BBC.