Fraudsters impersonating headteachers have managed to con schools across the country out of tens of thousands of pounds in the latest scam to target the education system.
Figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau show that since last September, 48 schools have reported the scam, most of them in December and January. Of those, 12 schools lost out on £145,124 between them.
One school lost £19,150 in one go, while the average loss across all 12 schools was £3,023.
The scam involves a fraudster creating an email address that’s similar to a particular headteacher’s and using it to contact members of staff with responsibility for authorising financial transfers.
The criminal, pretending to be the headteacher, then asks for an urgent one-off bank transfer, with the amounts requested ranging between £8,000 and £10,000.
Action Fraud is now urging schools to be on their guard against the scam, including challenging any requests that seem suspicious – particularly urgent requests from senior staff – and ensuring there are robust systems in place to verify and corroborate financial requests.
This is not the first time schools have been preyed on by con artists.
In March last year Ofsted was forced to issue a warning after phishing emails purporting to be from the organisation were sent to schools apparently asking for fees to be paid via PayPal.
Two months earlier, in January 2017, it emerged that conmen posing as officials for the Department for Education were attempting to inflict attacks of ransomware – which encrypts important files until a ransom is paid – on school computer systems.
The scammers would call schools and ask for the personal email and/or phone number of the head teacher or financial administrator claiming they needed to send them guidance forms containing sensitive information.
Instead, the emails sent included zip files containing ransomware which would encrypt files after being downloaded and demand up to £8,000 to recover them.
Back in February 2016, schools faced a different sort of challenge after a prankster who called himself “Uncle Rafool” called up more than 150 and impersonated an Ofsted inspector, telling staff they had lost their jobs before uploading the recordings to YouTube.