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Email fraud more common than you think: Oswald

By Staff

Emails were never designed as a secure form of communication and can be manipulated to look legitimate, sometimes by fraudsters who sit right next to you at work, Toronto forensic accountant and investigator Dave Oswald tells

“One of the big problems with emails is that we tend to believe where they’ve come from. So even when something appears to be not quite right, we often won’t challenge it,” says Oswald, the founder and owner of Oakville-based white-collar crime investigation boutique Forensic Restitution.

Over the years, Oswald says he has conducted several investigations that underscore just how easily email can be manipulated.

One situation involved a woman who, in tears, brought dozens of emails to the human resources director’s office. The emails, which appeared to be from a colleague, started innocently, complementing her on her looks, but later became suggestive and degenerated from there.

During questioning, the colleague denied sending the emails, Oswald says.

“We were called in to prove that this guy had actually sent these emails so they could fire him,” he says. “But we couldn’t find any trace of them being sent from his computer.

“On her computer, we found that she’d actually worked out how to change email addresses, and she’d sent emails purporting to be from him to herself and used them to try to get the guy fired.”

She ultimately revealed that the man, who sat in a nearby cubicle, bothered her, but she liked her job and didn’t want to leave it so instead decided to have the colleague fired, Oswald says.

“In the end, she was forced to leave,” he adds.

Another investigation determined that a man lied his way into his job by forging a degree and making the email in which it was sent appear as though it came from the university.

Once ensconced in his new job at a travel firm he discovered that the woman in charge ruled with an iron fist and that few were willing to challenge her, Oswald says.

“So the new employee crafted an email made to look as though it was from her, and sent it to the payroll department, giving himself a raise,” he says.

After his three-month probation period he crafted another email in her name and received a $30,000 bonus, Oswald says, adding that when those weren’t questioned he gave himself more pay increases, almost doubling his salary, as well as a year-end bonus.

“He managed to get away with that little scam for around about 18 months before he was finally caught,” he says.

The man was terminated after he used the company credit card while he was on vacation abroad, Oswald explains, adding the card company called his employer to alert them of its use, which they determined was improper.

“At the end of the day, he stole about $400,000. Not bad for a little con man,” he says.

In another investigation at an insurance company, Oswald determined one worker used a fake email to bank fake claims she made on behalf of a large client.

“She ran eight claims during the course of the year and because they were all under a certain limit, none were checked,” he says.

But at year’s end, Oswald says the department manager took the client out for lunch and mentioned it must have been a tough year for them, given the series of claims. But the client insisted they hadn’t made any that year.

“That led them to start investigating,” says Oswald, who traced the transactions to emails that were sent from her IP address. “We managed to prove how much she had taken.”

It was further revealed that she had slept with two bosses, both of whom were married, and they agreed not to reveal her secret if she didn’t reveal theirs, and allowed her to resign.

“If anything appears dodgy in the email, pick up the phone and call the person. Never just believe that what’s coming through in an email is actual fact. It could be fictitious,” concludes Oswald.

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