Targeted by a scam, a business manager turns into a private investigator

“I was amazed at the lack of means of action” from the police against cybercrime, explains the CEO of Avona, a women’s ready-to-wear company of around 80 employees, based in the suburbs of Villefranche- sur-Saône (Rhône).

Returning to his misadventure for AFP after having told it to the regional daily Le Progrès, Mr. Pagani explains that on April 8, the accountant of Avona received an email which seemed to come from him: “Did Me Bertrand tell you? contacted? “

The address of the sender is in fact subtly different from that of the entrepreneur.

A few minutes later, a man called the accountant, claiming to be Me Bertrand, a member of a renowned consulting firm. He asks him to carry out an “urgent” banking operation with a view to the purchase of a Hungarian company.

“He put her at ease: he knew perfectly well how the company worked. He told her that I had appointed him,” says Mr. Pagani.

The accountant then discusses it by email with the person she believes to be her boss, who obviously validates the transaction and asks her not to tell anyone else.

“In this type of scam, the transaction is always unplanned, urgent and confidential. Beforehand, the crooks carry out a very thorough investigation of the company so that everything appears credible”, explains the company manager.

A scam revived with the crisis

The next day, when Mr. Pagani is informed by his banker of these two transfers of 135,000 euros to Hungary, he first believes in a hacking.

But when his accountant maintains that it was he who ordered them, he understands that he was the victim of a “scam at the president”, a scam consisting of pretending to be the president of a company to trigger a transfer of funds.

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This type of stratagem peaked in the years 2013-2014 in France, before experiencing a resurgence since the crisis linked to the Covid-19 epidemic.

“Thanks to the reactivity of his bank”, the business manager still manages to block and recover his funds, and asks his accountant to continue to exchange with the crooks to collect as much information as possible.

But Mr. Pagani “is amazed” when the police say they can not catch the crooks in the act without the green light of a magistrate.

“We act according to what we can do legally. The infiltrations are very supervised”, explains Judicaële Ruby, head of the division for the fight against financial crime in Lyon.

Sébastien Pagani, a computer engineer by training, then took it into his head to hunt down the crooks himself.

“When I see that the referee is not doing his job, I use private means to do it”

“I have emailed viruses and cookies to locate them. These are outdated methods but still better than nothing since I managed to identify the business used by the crooks” in Hungary.

This information was sent to the Villefranche-sur-Saône police station, where his complaint was registered, pending the change of scenery of the case to a court better armed against this type of crime. Mr Pagani also lodged another complaint in Hungary.

“I don’t want to let them go. I can’t stand cheaters, and when I see that the referee is not doing his job, I use private means to do it,” he explains.

For its part, the judicial police ensures that these cases require “complicated” international cooperation, made even more delicate by the “meticulous anonymization techniques” used by the crooks.

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“What we do is mainly prevention, to tell the accountant to be very careful because the fault is human before being technical,” said Ms. Ruby.

In the meantime, Sébastien Pagani has installed a new computer system to protect himself from this type of scam. “Beyond the financial damage, there is moral damage. This affair has affected a large part of the workforce. My accountant is still in shock,” he notes.

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