Conmen posed as care home staff in bid to scam cash intended for vulnerable families in South Tyneside

Conmen posing as care home staff were foiled thanks to ‘simple but effective’ steps taken by town hall chiefs.

Tuesday, 16th June 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 17th June 2020, 5:24 pm
South Shields Town Hall

A new government report has highlighted the attempt by fraudsters to divert cash intended to pay to care for vulnerable families into their own pockets.

And it has singled out South Tyneside Council (STC) for praise for its handling of the incident, calling the council’s procedures an example of ‘good practice’.

An STC spokesman said: “We always apply caution around requests which result in a change to a suppliers bank account and implement measures to make sure requests are genuine.

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“In this particular case from 2014, we applied a simple but effective verification process which highlighted a clear attempt to redirect council funds to a fraudulent account.”

The council added: “Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous individuals and organised criminals who will look to gain financially from the procurement of public funds, which in turn impacts on our residents.

“We have strong systems in place to help identify and tackle fraud and corruption in procurement.

“This is critical in making sure that taxpayers’ money is used as it is intended and continues to support the communities we serve.”

The attempted fraud was highlighted in a report by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on the ‘risks of fraud and corruption in local government procurement’.

This saw a letter sent to STC claiming to be from a care home in the borough to tell them about changes to the home’s banking arrangements.

But a quick call to verify this revealed the deception and details were passed to Northumbria Police.

English councils spend about £55 billion every year on ‘goods, works and services’, with some estimates suggesting up to £2.75 billion of this could be lost to conmen.

Almost a quarter of local authorities which responded to the government survey admitted confirmed at least one instance of ‘procurement fraud’ in 2017/18.

But there are fears the problem could be much bigger.

According to the report: “The scale of fraud and corruption is often likened to an iceberg, with the visible portion above the waterline being a small fraction of the total scale of the problem, with the unknown majority of incidents hidden below the surface.

“The responses to the survey reflect only those elements above the waterline.”

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