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HR departments targeted in payroll phishing scam

We have been made aware of a targeted HR payroll phishing scam in which a threat actor uses an email to impersonate a senior employee asking for changes to their payroll account.

The emails directly target key personnel in the HR and Finance department. This is known as a business email compromise (BEC) attack, in which a threat actor attempts to trick a senior executive or budget holder into transferring funds or revealing sensitive information.

Without a suspicious URL and attachment, there are no obvious indicators of compromise, allowing the email to pass through filters and reach the target’s Inbox.

In the email, the threat actor uses the name of the impersonated staff member in the email ‘From’ field. However, threat actors often use popular webmail services like Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo to send the email. The email relies inherently on social engineering the target into redirecting payments into the threat actor’s account.

It is almost certain the threat actor has used social media sites such as LinkedIn to scrape data of personnel relating to HR and Finance departments to use in these targeted attacks.

It's important that organisations review their privacy settings and assess what information is posted across social and professional accounts.

Unlike standard phishing emails that are sent out indiscriminately to millions of people, BEC attacks are crafted to appeal to specific individuals, and can be even harder to detect.

It is imperative that organisations provide awareness surrounding this attack, particularly to those working in HR and Finance departments, and perhaps offer further training on how to spot a BEC attack. For example:

  • Think about usual working practices and financial transactions. If the email is from a person or organisation you don’t usually do business with, treat it with suspicion

  • Check the sender’s address. The ‘From:’ field may be different to the address

  • Look out for emails that appear to come from high-ranking personnel

  • BEC emails often use a sense of urgency, validate the urgency before acting

Furthermore, we offer a service called Security Awareness Training, or Staff Awareness Training, which focuses on risks and threats that employees may face but may not be currently aware of. The training can be our generic, 'off the shelf' training which offers a broad stroke of all threats, or we can tailor it to suit your business's needs.

For more information on the training, read the blogs below. To book your session, contact us via our website or email

Further reading and information on Security Awareness Training



Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).



The contents of blog posts on this website are provided for general information only and are not intended to replace specific professional advice relevant to your situation. The intention of East Midlands Cyber Resilience Centre (EMCRC) is to encourage cyber resilience by raising issues and disseminating information on the experiences and initiatives of others. Articles on the website cannot by their nature be comprehensive and may not reflect most recent legislation, practice, or application to your circumstances. EMCRC provides affordable services and Trusted Partners if you need specific support. For specific questions please contact us by email.


EMCRC does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information or materials published on this blog. EMCRC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites that link to this site or which are linked from it.

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