There has been a legal case, which is interesting for everyone and serves as a warning to all of us and our clients.
A British company, which is in permanent business contact with a German company, ordered several larger deliveries of equipment. The British company company was charged a total of € 400,000 by the German company, which was to be paid in four instalments of € 100,000 each.
The first two instalments of € 100,000 each were duly transferred to the correct account specified by the supplier.
Then the British company received a fraudulent e-mail, which was absolutely perfect faked. The fraudulent e-mail contained a correct sender, the correct names of the persons involved and the information that the last two payments of € 100,000 each, which were also named with the correct issue data, were to be made to “our new bank account at a bank in Austria”. In fact, both payments, a total of € 200,000, were subsequently transferred to the account in Austria.
Fortunately, the Austrian bank realised that the transfer to an account which had only a small account balance and belonged to an insignificant politician could at best have a criminal law background and informed the fraud authorities immediately on the one hand and blocked the account immediately on the other. Before that, the account holder had tried to transfer the money to the account of a friend of his. A contact on my part with the Austrian bank could not lead to any result, as the account had meanwhile been blocked by the public prosecutor’s office.
The question now arose whether we would sue the account holder for payment of the amount of € 200,000. A lawsuit would have caused relatively high costs. The flat-rate fee to be paid to the court already would have cost € 4,380. My recommendation to the British company was therefore to join the criminal proceedings as a private party, as there was the possibility that the criminal court would decide on the repayment of this amount to my client at the same time as a criminal sentence if the legal situation was clear. After two hearings before the criminal court, the proceedings came to an end. In favour of my client, the entire amount of € 200,000 was transferred back by court order. From the first contact with the client at the end of September until the decision of the Regional Court for Criminal Matters in Vienna to repay the amount of € 200,000 in mid-February of the next year, it therefore took only five months for the client to be able to dispose of its money again. A civil action would have certainly taken at least one year due to the fact that the account holder had refused to agree to the remittance of the money.
The conclusion that is valid and important for the whole of Europe is the fact that, according to the information I have obtained from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, such cases occur constantly and relatively frequently. E-mails with payment requests should also be treated with caution if they come from permanent business partners, as long as the account data is different from the previously known data. This can happen anywhere.
Article written by Dr. Johannes Leon