West Suffolk Council: Fears that £52k phishing scam could force council tax up

The council paid out nearly £52,000 before realising the mistake. Credit: PA

Fears have been raised that taxpayers could be asked to foot the bill after a council fell victim to a phishing scam - and handed over nearly £52,000.

Bosses said workers at West Suffolk Council had been conned by "mandate fraud" - in which fraudsters hack into suppliers’ emails and send emails asking for payment.

A meeting heard that recouping the cost of the fraud could be equivalent to a 0.5% rise in council tax.

Councillor Diane Hind, the council's cabinet member for resources, said: “Although we did catch the fraud and stopped further funds going out, unfortunately, this was after payment had been made.

"We have been in contact with the company whose security was breached and the email supplier as well as strengthening and re-enforcing our own practices."

She said the crime was "very hard to solve and prosecute" and called for more action nationally on fraud.

During the meeting of the performance and audit scrutiny committee, councillors were the told missing £52,000 could be equivalent to a 0.5% increase in council tax for the next financial year, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Opposition leader Nick Clarke said: “It sticks in everyone’s throat a little bit when 0.5% of that raise will be to cover up this fraud event.

“Yes, these fraudsters are very clever but this is a considerable sum of money.”

Mr Clarke acknowledged even "the best well-run organisations" could fall victim to scams.

Preparations for next year's budget are under way, and council leader Cliff Waterman assured residents that the impact of the scam and other savings that councillors must make would be made with the least possible impact on services and council tax.

He added that measures had been put in place to prevent any further fraud from happening in the future.

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