Fraudsters posing as senior executives at Holland & Barrett have conned unwitting European food suppliers out of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of stock.
The criminals are taking advantage of the ignorance of some continental food suppliers of the UK market and the buying practices of leading retailers.
They work by forging purchase orders using convincing logos and letterheads and even the names of senior executives. The unsuspecting suppliers then ship the goods to their warehouses, from which the criminals sell them on.
Holland & Barrett said it had received payment demands from half a dozen European suppliers for goods it had not ordered or received. None of the companies regularly supplied Holland & Barrett and the majority of the orders were for products that were not even stocked by the retailer, including olive oil, tomatoes and parmesan cheese.
After reporting these cases to the police and Action Fraud, Holland & Barrett was informed that nine arrests had been made abroad. However, the police said the arrests were part of a long investigation and were unable to confirm whether the arrests were directly linked.
The fraudulent orders started happening a year ago. Holland & Barrett’s security manager Martin Toomey even visited one of the warehouses where the goods were shipped.
“I arrived at the warehouse and asked to see the manager but was confronted by two men and a dog wanting to know why I was asking questions,” Toomey said.
He called on other retailers to report similar incidents to try and build a better picture of the illegal activity. He also implored suppliers to be more vigilant and to double check orders before acting on them.
“If it looks out of the ordinary - an incorrect or unfamiliar address or email, for example - they should contact the firm for clarification before shipping any goods. If in any doubt they should refer the matter to the police,” he said.
National Business Crime Solution, which co-ordinates intelligence and connects business with law enforcement, has been working with Holland & Barrett.
“It is clearly a well organised network of criminals in an organised crime group. Once the door shuts on one market, the perpetrators move on to another,” said Brendan Harte, the managing director of NBCS.
Earlier this year, The Grocer reported a similar style fraud involving a Polish supplier who lost €97,000 worth of Snickers to criminals impersonating Asda. The supplier later recovered the stock following a police raid on a warehouse in London.