An IT contractor who cheated a legal services company out of £10,000 and then tried to cover his tracks by faking his own death was unmasked after he posted a message to the Friends Reunited Web site asking old friends to get in touch.
The Buckinghamshire-based test specialist, Glenn Todd, picked up the cash after handing fake time-sheets to his employer, the Jersey-based financial and legal services company, Mourant. Every organisation employing temporary IT staff should learn from the scam.
Mourant, which provides financial advice to wealthy individuals, had to spend months double-checking its contractor timesheets and installing new security systems after the fraud came to light last year during an IT project.
An uncontested court hearing last month ordered the contractor, from Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, to repay the money but solicitors are uncertain how much, if any, of the cash they will ever see.
Todd, a test specialist in his late 30s who claims to have worked in Canada, Kenya, and the UK for major companies including NTL, OnDigital and Bupa, accepted a three-month, £320-a-day contract with Mourant in June last year. Although his timesheets went through Mourant unchallenged, an eagle-eyed employee at the company's recruitment agency, the Triangle Partnership, spotted that the authorisation signatures on the sheets appeared to be identical.
"When we had a close look, we found that one timesheet had been photocopied again and again. When we checked it we found that he was not working on that day. Four sets of timesheets turned out to be false," said Warwick Bergin, director of Triangle.
Triangle refunded Mourant and began chasing the contractor for the missing £10,000. When confronted, Todd offered to pay all the money back in five monthly instalments, begging the agency not to involve the courts or the police.
Weeks later, Todd's partner, Katherine Fisher, e-mailed Triangle, claiming that he was seriously ill and having difficulty meeting the agreed schedule. "Glenn has been diagnosed with intestinal cancer, for which he is now receiving medical attention. He is currently in the USA receiving a rather more enhanced form of treatment than he could expect in this country."
By February Todd was "dead". Fisher, who claimed she was now living in the US, assured the agency that that the money would be paid from life insurance policies she said were worth more than £500,000. "The death certificate and the accompanying autopsy report will outline causation. These will be sent within 14 days upon their final completion," she wrote.
Triangle sent a letter of condolence, but when neither the autopsy reports nor the money arrived, Bergin became suspicious. "I have been around this business a long time and I have heard of broken backs, dead mothers, the plague - just about every possible excuse. You get a bit of an inkling when something is not quite right," he said.
Then one of Triangle's staff noticed a profile on the Friends Reunited Web site, from a man who signed himself Glenn. Just like Todd, this man had emigrated to Canada, and spent a year in Africa, before ending up as an IT contractor in Buckinghamshire. "It would be great to arrange a reunion at some juncture," the profile said.
"I would love to have a reunion," said Bergin, who is still trying to recover more than £8,000 from Todd. He hired a private detective who turned up at the contractor's address and found both Todd and Fisher, who had claimed she had emigrated to the US, alive and well.
"I have never heard of such a straightforward rip-off. It is so blatant. I guess what aggravates the most is that they had the gall to call up and say, 'He is dead'. Being on Friends Reunited several months after he was supposed to have died is a bit of a giveaway," said Bergin.
Computer Weekly tried to contact Todd, without success. Even if he recovers the money, Bergin says it will not begin to pay for the management time and costs incurred by both Mourant and the Triangle Partnership in dealing with the case.
There is no substitute for thorough vetting.
The dodgy contractor who tried to escape justice by being "virtually" dead, but came unstuck when he continued to "live" in cyberspace
Glenn Todd signs a three-month contract to work at legal services firm Mourant Services at a daily rate of £320
Todd is off sick but submits timesheets to Mourant for work he has not done. The sheets go through unchallenged
A sharp-eyed employee at employment agency Triangle spots photocopied signatures on the timesheets. Mourant begins review of security systems and contractor pay
Todd agrees to pay back more than £10,000 in five monthly instalments. After an initial payment, he fails to keep to the schedule
Todd's partner, Katherine Fisher,
e-mails the agency to say that Todd is seriously ill and receiving treatment for intestinal cancer in the US
Todd "has sadly passed away," writes Fisher, promising that the outstanding sum will be paid from a life insurance payout. The recruitment agency sends her a letter of condolence
Fisher e-mails the agency's solicitors to say that she has moved to the US and will pay the amount owed and any fees due by standing order. The money does not arrive
Todd posts an article on the Friends Reunited Web site. An investigator discovers that he and Fisher are still living at their home in Buckinghamshire and that Todd is alive and well
Court orders Todd to pay an £8,375.12 after he fails to turn up to defend the case.
This was first published in October 2002