Three men have been sentenced for their roles in an email-based 'mandate' fraud that diverted more than £60,000 from businesses and private individuals into an Eastbourne-based bank account.
Clive Theobald, 55, of Coffee Hall, Milton Keynes; Tolulope Ajetunmobi, 37, of Marchwood Close, London SE5: and Sogo Fasoyiro, 40, of Chandlers Drive, Bexley, Kent, were sentenced at Lewes Crown Court on Tuesday (9 April) having been convicted on 12 February of a series of money laundering offences.
Theobald was sentenced to 26 months for seven offences of transferring or possessing criminal property, Ajetunmobi was sentenced to 18 months for two such offences, and Fasoyiro was given a one-year sentence suspended for two years, plus 150 hours unpaid work, for five such offences. She was also found not guilty of three other such charges.
A 47-year-old woman was arrested in relation to the offences but was deported.
Mandate fraud involves a company or individual being tricked into changing details of a direct debit, standing order or bank transfer by criminals pretending to be an organisation to whom regular payments are made, typically a business supplier or a subscription. It’s a simple but effective fraud which is used a lot and can involve the loss of a huge amount of money.
Detective Constable Fleur Jones of the Sussex Police Economic Crime Unit said: "We identified six incidents in which people had been defrauded or almost defrauded by these defendants.
"One was a firm of builders in East Sussex who lost £7,908, meant to be the payment of building repairs that they had completed to a block of flats. A second was a man in London who lost £59, 595 supposed to be the deposit for the purchase of his new home. A Surrey man lost £1,000 meant to be the deposit for the rent of a flat, an Eastbourne sports club lost £2,370 meant to be the payment of an invoice.
"A Sussex man almost lost £7,000 meant to be the payment of a landscaping invoice but he realised just in time that the bank account details had been changed, so made a phone call to the genuine company to double check their bank details. A Hungarian company almost lost £12,639.18 meant to be the payment of an invoice but this payment was held in the bank account that the defendants had access to by the bank who by then had been alerted to the unusual amount of money coming into and out of the account."
These incidents came to light when the victims were alerted to the fact that monies they had paid, or were due to be paid to them, hadn’t arrived at their intended destinations. The victims then realised that their email accounts had been hacked and that the genuine bank account details on invoices had been changed to an account used by the crime group.
A series of reports by the victims to Action Fraud were linked and passed to Sussex Police and allocated to a local Eastbourne officer. In a routine review of fraud and money laundering crimes during one of the force Economic Crime Unit’s pioneering internal ‘fraud clinics’, DC Jones identified the potential complexity of the case and it was then investigated by the Unit at Sussex Police HQ, which specialises in complex fraud and money laundering cases. Fleur Jones worked with Force Intelligence analysts went on to identify the onward transfers of the monies and the suspects responsible, and built the case against them.
She said; “Mandate fraudsters are able to execute this crime by initially hacking your email account; they send out spurious emails seemingly from established organisations such as Paypal, Apple or TV Licencing with links enticing you to click on the link and input your email address and password. They hope that your email and password for these organisations is the same as for your email account.
"Once they have captured this information they are able to get into your email account and monitor it until there appears to be an impending financial transaction that you are about to make, and once that email drops into your inbox asking you to pay a bill they quickly change the bank details of the payee to ones that they can access. So you pay your money thinking you have paid your bill, but really the money has gone straight into the criminal’s bank account."
To protect yourself :-
NEVER click on a link in an email which asks you to input password information, no matter how genuine the email looks.
ALWAYS use different passwords for other websites/platforms/accounts etc to those you use for your email account.
If a company you make a regular payment to suddenly emails you saying their bank account details have changed, ALWAYS make a phone call to them to check using a phone number sourced from somewhere else, not just taken from the email or invoice you have received.
Meanwhile the police investigation into this trio of fraudsters continues. Expert investigators are looking into their assets for a court hearing later this year at which applications will be made for confiscation orders under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) for any available assets judged to have been acquired by crime.
For more information and advice about preventing mandate fraud see the Sussex Police website.
Police photos of Theobald and Ajetunmobi are not available as they were interviewed by appointment under caution and did not go through the custody procedure
Ref: SXP 54499/2019
Author: Tim Mahony