A SCOTTISH blue-chip company was scammed out of £18 million after fraudsters posed as its boss on the phone.
Criminals called a senior executive at the firm and fooled him into transferring the cash into a foreign bank account, in what is thought to be one of the biggest thefts ever attempted in Scotland.
The company involved - which cannot be named for legal reasons - are hopeful they will be able to recoup the stolen money after it was tracked down by Police Scotland detectives to an overseas bank account.
Officers are now investigating two similar telephone scams involving individual bank customers.
It is thought other Scottish businesses may have fallen victim to so-called “vishing” thefts, but may have declined to report them through fear of damaging their corporate reputations.
“We are talking about big international companies that are household names,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Gerry McLean, head of organised crime and counter-terrorism at Police Scotland.
Details of the scam have been made public in an attempt to educate businesses on the tactics used by such con artists.
Detective Chief Inspector Kenny Thomson, of Police Scotland’s economic crime and financial investigation unit, said: “In one case the amount involved was £18m. We talking vast sums of money. But the way the crime works is similar to a vishing scam.
“The companies targeted appear to be the Scottish subsidiaries of international businesses. Generally, a finance person will get the call from someone saying they are the chief executive. ‘You have never met me before’ the person will say, ‘but you know my name don’t you?’ The caller will then say that he has a ‘hush-hush project to discuss, an acquisition or business deal. ‘You don’t can’t tell anybody about it,’ the caller will say, ‘but I need you to move money straight away’.”
Mr Thomson added such calls were repeated, usually at a time when the global head office of the targeted Scottish business was closed.
Officers are trying to identify other victims of such crimes from north of the border.
Investigations suggest the stolen money is transferred to accounts in North America or the Far East before it is “starbursted” - meaning the cash is divided between multiple banks and effectively vanished.
Police only managed to find the £18m frozen after acting quickly.
The money has yet to be returned and is subject to a major overseas criminal investigation.