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Cybercrime and fraud – is my charity at risk from my own staff?

The simplest answer to this question is maybe – so read on to find out what additional vulnerabilities your charity may have from the people who work for you – both paid staff and volunteers.

Woman looking at a folder suspicious

One of the biggest assumptions made by charities around cybercrime is that they won’t be affected as they don’t have anything of value to hackers and scammers.

If that were true it doesn’t explain the fact that over a third of our regions’ charities have fallen victim to a cyber-attack during the course of the pandemic. Here we will look to explore why charities are so vulnerable, and how you can work with us to help reduce your chance of becoming a victim in 2022.

What does an insider threat look like?

These generally come in two forms.

Malicious – often in the form of a disgruntled fired employee who wants to get back at their former company, though they can also come in the form of employees still working at the company. In that case they may be part of an organised crime network or an individual looking to harm the company through fraud, IT sabotage, intellectual property theft or espionage.

Accidental – in the form of employees who unintentionally expose confidential data through poor cyber hygiene, weak passwords or similar.

Whichever one they are they contribute to a significant number of data beaches every year.

According to the ICO

  • 6% of incident reported to them in 2022 were from the Charitiable and Voluntary sector (the 7th highest sector)

  • The most prevelent incident types were: "Other non-cyber" (18%), Unauthorised access (16%), Data emailed to incorrect recipient (16%)

In many cases breaches from former employees stem from an organisational failure to identify a change in employee status at the point the employee leaves the company – a classic disconnect between HR and the IT companies that are responsible for data security. Some companies are more vulnerable to this than others – it often occurs where there are high turnovers of staff or where the HR function is outsourced. But IT and HR policies and procedures are key to help companies combat the threat and make it more difficult for Insiders to operate.

Tens of thousands stolen by charity employee

In one highly publicised case a charity co-ordinator defrauded charitable funds to a value of over £45,000.

The fraudster was responsible for paying charity bills but was not an authorised signatory on the charity’s bank account. The fraudster was able to access one of the senior management team’s bank account login details to set up fake payees’ in the name of genuine third parties. The funds were then transferred to the fraudsters own bank account.

Bills were then falsified, and the fraudster used the bank login details to authorise the false bills. When the charity conducted its weekly bank account checks they showed trusted partners being paid, although in reality these were false payments to the fraudster’s personal bank account.

The fraud was carried out over a period of 6 months and was only detected when the fraudster admitted it.

The charity’s bank was contacted to stop the false payees and the fraudulently accessed login details. An internal investigation was carried out on the charity’s bank account and its transactions to establish the full extent of the fraud. All payments were reviewed during the period that the fraudster was employed.

The investigation also considered the potential for wider collusion. Appropriate reports were made to the relevant authorities, including the Charity Commission and the police.

The fraudster’s employment was also terminated, though the money was never recovered.

The impact of this insider attack is clear to see – both economically and reputationally.

And it was able to occur simply because the company did not enact simple security protocols for staff within the organisation.

Wall with question mark on it

What can you do to protect your charity?

Threats like these are amongst the most difficult to guard against however there are some key considerations for companies.

  • Have clear HR policies around staff leaving the organisation and ensure that they are adhered to. All staff leaving to have documented and audited exit interviews to include return of company IT equipment, password cancellations etc., to limit opportunities for former staff members to be able to access company networks. Implement a handover period to try and limit impact on the organisation.

  • Make staff aware of the approaches that they might get and how to report them. One of Tesla’s employees was approached with a $1M deal for insider access. They reported it, helped with the investigation and a criminal, Kriuchkov was arrested. The ECRC can provide bespoke staff awareness training tailored to what threats your company and employees might face. Contact us now to find out more.

  • Implement strong access controls and allow access to systems that people really need rather than everything. If you were working in a physical location, you might have some areas which were only accessible to staff who worked there, and for anything really valuable, maybe a safe. But you wouldn’t give the safe keys to everyone who worked for you. If you’re not sure about access control take a look at one of our short videos about it.

  • Have internal network logging. This will enable you to see unusual activity, such as emailing eight thousand sensitive files outside of the network – this is how General Electric recently suffered a massive data breach. The NCSC has a free tool to help with this, Logging Made Easy. You can read more about it here.

  • Have policies and procedures which cover data control and access. Consider limiting the number of attachments that could be sent out at once, and then set up a rule which alerts you if any more than that are sent. This gives you the ability to check that what is being sent is going for a legitimate reason. Tell your staff that their emails are being monitored and tell them about the policy. If you are not sure whether your policies cover all that should be considered why not have a policy review with our affordable service provided by one of our students?

Further guidance & support

You can contact the Cyber Resilience Centre for guidance and support through our e-mail or use our online booking system to make an appointment with one of our team.

We recommend that all businesses in the Eastern region consider joining our growing community as a free member. Core members receive regular updates which include the latest guidance, news, and security updates. Our core membership has been tailored for businesses and charities of all sizes who are based across the seven counties in the East of England.

The ECRC is a policing-led, not for profit, membership organisation, with the aim to increase the cyber resilience within small and medium businesses within the East of England (Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Kent).

Reporting Cyber Crime

Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).

Policing led - business focused.


The contents of this website are provided for general information only and are not intended to replace specific professional advice relevant to your situation. The intention of The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East is to encourage cyber resilience by raising issues and disseminating information on the experiences and initiatives of others. Articles on the website cannot by their nature be comprehensive and may not reflect most recent legislation, practice, or application to your circumstances. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East provides affordable services and Trusted Partners if you need specific support. For specific questions please contact us.

The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information or materials published on this document. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East is not responsible for the content of external internet sites that link to this site or which are linked from it.

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