Businesses warned over university domain fraud

Businesses warned over university domain fraud [Image: HYWARDS via iStock]

Action Fraud has issued a warning to businesses to be wary of domains that appear to belong to UK universities.

According to the national crime reporting centre, reports show that cyber criminals are registering domain names to look like they belong to UK university email addresses in an attempt to defraud businesses of huge amounts of money.

This type of fraud, which is known as European distribution fraud (EDF), happens when a company from abroad (typically in Europe) delivers products to the UK, but isn’t paid for the goods or the cost of shipping.

The cyber criminals responsible register domains similar to genuine university domains – such as xxxxacu-uk.org, xxxxuk-ac.org and xxxacu.co.uk. According to Action Fraud, these domains are used to contact suppliers and order high value goods including IT equipment and pharmaceutical chemicals in the university’s name.

Suppliers typically receive an email claiming to be from a university, requesting a quotation for goods on extended payment terms. Once the quotation has been provided, a purchase order is emailed to the supplier, which is similar to one from a real university.

This purchase order will usually instruct delivery to an address where the items are received by the criminals before being moved on. However, no payment is then received by the supplier.

Director of Action Fraud Pauline Smith said: “This type of fraud can have a serious impact on businesses. This is why it’s so important to spot the signs and carry out all the necessary checks, such as verifying the order and checking any documents for poor spelling and grammar.

“We know that there is a lack of reporting by affected companies and without this vital intelligence, a true picture of EDF cannot be reflected. If you or your business has been a victim, report it to Action Fraud.”

Her organisation urged businesses to ensure they verify and corroborate all order requests from new customers. It recommended using telephone numbers or email addresses found on the retailer’s website rather than using details given on the suspicious email.

Action Fraud also advised businesses to verify the request through an established contact to make sure it is legitimate if the order request is from a new contact at an organisation that’s an existing customer.