Museum finance team duped out of £74k by gang of email cheats

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HERITAGE bosses have tightened up their security after fraudsters conned a leading museum out of almost £74,000 in an internet scam.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), which is based in Portsmouth, was hoodwinked out of £73,800 in the email con.

Professor Dominic Tweddle

Professor Dominic Tweddle

Fraudsters duped the institution’s finance team into signing off the cash by posing as the NMRN director general, Professor Dominic Tweddle, in an email.

Cheats targeted the museum on two occasions, with bosses spotting the con on the second attempt and promptly reporting it to police and the Charity Commission.

The crime, which took place in October 2016, was revealed in the museum’s latest trustees’ report.

Since the scam, Prof Tweddle said new, more stringent proceedures have been implemented, adding extra training had been given to his finance team.

Speaking to The News, Prof Tweddle said: ‘I have been here for 10 years and this is the only time something like this has happened.

‘It’s a “big boss” fraud. The email purported to come from me and ordered a sum of money to come from me.

‘Unfortunately it wasn’t picked up first time but was picked up the second time round.’

He added more elaborate protocols had been implemented when it comes to approving any finance requests, which now require multiple signatures and checks.

Condeming the fraudsters, he said: ‘What they have done is shameful but that’s the way the modern world works. It’s the downside.’

The report revealed the fraud came in the same financial period that saw the NMRN make 19 members of staff redundant.

While figures from the yearly earnings were also hit, with attendance revenue dropping between 2016 and 2017.

Admissions to HMS Victory, at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, slumped, dropping from £1,207,657 to £917,254 while tickets into the dockyard fell from £1,068,283 in 2016 to £768,273.

Prof Tweddle claimed the slump in the NMRN’s income was an unusual ‘minor blip’ – one he blamed on the unusual calendar which meant the museum didn’t benefit from the traditional Easter holiday boost in visitors.

‘Easter has a big effect on visitor numbers,’ Prof Tweddle said. ‘Between 10 and 20 per cent of our visitors come between the Easter break.’

Speaking about the redundancies, Prof Tweddle said there was no connection between the fraud and the number of staff axed, claiming this was part of a pre-planned re-organisation of the museum.

‘They’re not related at all,’ he said.

Prof Tweddle also defended his £7,500 bonus which was revealed in the report, saying this was something presented to him for achieving targets set by museum heads for 2015/16.

He added during the year of the fraud he and the rest of his top team had forgone their bonuses.

‘Clearly something had gone wrong’, he said.

This year’s visitor figures are expected to be the highest yet to the NMRN’s clutch of attractions in Portsmouth, Prof Tweddle claimed.

Come the end of the month, he expects the museum to have welcomed 925,000 people through the doors.