Keating Foundation targeted in scam bid
Fraudster poses as charity boss to request bank transfers of €200,000
GARDAI are investigating an audacious attempt to steal almost €200,000 from the Marie Keating Foundation, the cancer charity founded by Boyzone star Ronan Keating in memory of his late mother.
The fraud was detected at the 11th hour by vigilant staff last Friday week when a man posing as a director of the charity used highly confidential financial information to request five bank transfers of up to €40,000 each.
The man had earlier tricked the charity's telephone provider into diverting all phone calls from the office number to his mobile number, in case the bank should ring to authorise the transfer.
David Hall, chairman of the Marie Keating Foundation, said he understood that his charity was one of several to be targeted and warned others to be alert to the fraud.
"We understand that this is not an isolated incident and that other parties have been affected by this type of scam.
"It was brazen. They were trying to be clever by diverting the phones, as though a phone call from the bank would be enough to authorise the transfer of the funds." The attempted scam occurred last Friday week when, at 9.15am, a man posing as a representative of the Marie Keating Foundation called the charity's telephone provider, Imagine. He asked for all calls to the Marie Keating Foundation to be diverted to a mobile phone, quoting the charity's telephone account details. The phone company obliged.
As the morning progressed, staff at the charity noticed that the phone lines were unusually quiet. They contacted Imagine, which reverted calls from the mobile back to the office. At that stage, staff were suspicious as to why someone would go to the the trouble of diverting their phones but it wasn't until later in the day that they linked it to the attempted robbery.
That afternoon, five withdrawal slips were faxed to the charity's bank in Swords requesting the transfer of sums of up to €40,000 from the charity's bank account to another account. The slips were apparently signed by the charity's directors, David Hall, and Gerard Keating, who are the trustees of the account.
Although the charity's account details have been published during fundraising drives, the account's signatories were known to only a handful of people. The transaction didn't follow the security protocol so the bank was immediately suspicious and contacted the charity's directors, who told gardai. While the fraudster was waiting by his mobile phone for a call from the bank to authorise the release of the money, the phone lines had by then been restored to the charity.
Apparently undeterred, a second attempt was made to transfer money from the charity's bank account on Monday.
Detectives in Swords and the garda fraud bureau are following the paper trail, which includes a fax number, a mobile phone number and a tape of the phone call to Imagine. A memo was circulated to telephone providers last week, warning them to be vigilant if asked to divert the phone lines of companies or charities.
David Hall said he was appalled at the "brazenness" of the attempted fraudsters, who kept trying to transfer money even after the bank and the charity had cottoned on to their activities.
He said: "Some organisations may not have the security systems in place that we do, and we're open to advising or helping on those security systems where we can. People need to be aware of this. It is not a story that we like to have out there ahead of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but morally we could not sit back and not let other charities know."