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Fraudsters steal roughly £500,000 from the Highland Hospice

By Staff Reporter

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Police had been concerned for the man's welfare.
Police had been concerned for the man's welfare.

FRAUDSTERS have stolen hundreds of thousands of pounds from the Highland Hospice, it has been confirmed.

The hospice was one of the high profile victims of a scam which left Highland organisations almost £2.5m out of pocket in the space of just 11 days.

Police said the charity was defrauded out of a "mid-six figure sum" by the crooks, who used a 'vishing' scam to con the charity out of the cash.

Officers said "some" of the cash has since been recovered, but work remains ongoing to "try to recover as much of the funds as possible".

None of the other Highland organisations that were targeted have yet been named but the number of businesses affected is in "single figures", police have revealed.

Highland Hospice chairman, Forbes Duthie, said: "Staff at the Hospice have been shocked and devastated by this despicable and sophisticated cyber crime.

"The stolen funds had been raised through the generosity and significant efforts of Hospice fundraisers and supporters to help us care for our patients and support their families which makes the crime especially abhorrent."

Highland Hospice CEO, Kenny Steele added: "Although this is a horrendous situation it will not have an immediate impact on operations. There is resilience built into the Hospice financial systems to cope with these types of risk to ensure that our top priority of patient and family care and wellbeing is protected.

"We have put in additional security measures and we are working with the Police and Banking authorities to work on recovery of the funds and track the perpetrators. We also hope that releasing this information will help protect other businesses in the area."

Vishing scams work by tricking people or organisations into believing that the person on the other end of the line is from their bank. The fraudsters then try to con their victim into believing their accounts have been hacked and get them to transfer the money into "safe" accounts. In reality these "safe" accounts belong to the fraudsters, who then empty them of funds.

Police have warned Highlanders to beware calls from people claiming to be from banks using what the force said were "genuine-looking communications". They added that the crooks' methods can make them seem very convincing.

Detective Inspector Iain McPhail from the Economic Crime and Financial Investigation Unit said: "Any activity of this nature is unacceptable but to defraud money from a charity with the primary purpose of providing palliative care is utterly disgraceful.

"We are carrying out a thorough investigation into this incident and other businesses involved.

"We are also working with the companies' banks as part of the investigation and also to recover the money that has been taken.

"These incidents are unusual in their scale for the Highlands but there is nothing to suggest that the north of Scotland is being particularly targeted.

"However, I would again urge people to be on their guard against unsolicited calls from someone claiming to be from their bank.

"Always double check numbers you're given to call back on or call through the main customer care number for the organisation and ask to be put through.

"If you decide to ring back and verify the call it is advisable to do so on a different phone line like another landline or your mobile. If you are still unsure, consider visiting your local branch instead of speaking to someone over the phone."

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