Coronavirus: ESFA urges caution as fraud cases soar

The government is warning academies and local authorities to exercise caution when dealing with suppliers, following a 400 per cent rise in coronavirus-related fraud last month. 

The Education and Skills Funding agency today released additional guidance to support schools and councils operating during the pandemic after March saw a spike in scams. 

“Periods of instability, such as during the coronavirus pandemic, bring an increased risk of fraud,” the guidance warns. “Fraudsters will actively exploit these difficult times and will target vulnerable areas for financial gain.”

The ESFA said such a period of instability can lead to increased pressure, and that “staff wanting to be helpful and flexible when dealing with suppliers can be more susceptible to targeted attacks from fraudsters, particularly around changes to payment details”.

Last month it was revealed scammers had been attempting to dupe the parents of children entitled to free school meals by suggesting schools were closing and requesting bank details to pay for the meals. 

The ESFA is advising schools and local authorities to follow all business processes and procedures designed to protect them from fraud during periods of instability. 

These include maintaining strong internal control and implementing clear policies and procedures, providing further training for staff, reviewing internal risk assessments and fraud risk assessments and undertaking audits to monitor internal controls.