Published: 10 October 2012

The Association's Members have recently reported that over the past weeks they have become aware of a number of serious incidents of fraud by unidentified parties. 

These incidents involve attempts by these parties to obtain payment against the production of fraudulent transport documents, including forged Bills of Lading, Freight Invoices, Charterparties and other types of documents, many of which used copies of Member's headed paper.

Members say that they are receiving inquiries from third parties via e-mail and facsimile concerning the receipt of such documents, and asking Members to confirm the validity of the documents and whether these were, in fact, issued by the Members. The false documents are presented to innocent Buyers with the request to make an advance payment of freight directly to the carrier for the carriage of the non-existent cargo and include bank details which have no relation to the respective carrier. Fraudsters made multiple attempts to receive payments from a number of Buyers having confidence, we presume, that they would succeed at least in some cases without being discovered.

Unfortunately, modern technology makes this type of fraud much easier to perpetrate and much more difficult to protect against. We urge all Members to be particularly vigilant. Forged documents are often made (as in these cases) by downloading company logos and other graphics from the internet. The documents can often have distinguishing features that identify them as not being genuine. These may include distorted graphics, small typing errors, fictitious signatures, personalized or/and public domain based e-mail addresses etc. It is important for members to ensure that they carefully check the identity of customers/clients using "g-mail", "hot-mail", other public-domain based and personalised e-mails. While executing payment of invoices, accounting departments should verify the contractual agreements and details of account holders/beneficiaries in order to ensure that previously approved payment instructions are being used. In all cases, thorough checks should be applied to eliminate (or at least minimise) potential risk. Blank copies of transport documents should be under control and taken care of. Any cancelled and/or old documents should also be carefully destroyed using a confidential waste facility.

The problem of fraudulent Bills of Lading and Charter parties is not geographically restricted to certain areas and is a worldwide problem. Victims are often well-known and respected companies. Therefore, given the latest incidents of fraud helpfully reported by our Members, we urge all members to remain vigilant to ensure that their position is as protected as possible. If, notwithstanding these efforts, a member becomes aware of a fraud having been perpetrated against them, we should be grateful for that the member to notify the Association.