July 2, 2021

Whistleblower Hoax: Heads Up! New Fake Emails Making the Rounds

Last month, Liz blogged about a hoax whistleblower email message that was making its way around public company ethics inboxes.  Unfortunately, we’ve recently learned that there are at least two more of these in circulation.  Here’s the first:

To Whom It May Concern:

I want to report an incident that I believe is of interest to the ethics board. It has recently come to my attention that a certain employee I work with, which I will leave nameless for the time being (referring to them as Doe), is engaged in an activity I feel is inappropriate. Doe and I both work in one of the company’s sales teams. A while back, a few of us went to grab drinks after work, and a conversation soon ensued. We were discussing work matters, and specifically our client relationships, and things of that nature, when Doe leaned over and whispered so that only I could hear that the best way to retain your clients is to keep them happy if I know what they mean.  At the time, I paid no mind to it. Later that evening, while getting back to our cars, Doe and I were by ourselves. I mentioned in passing that this year was not bad considering COVIC from what we initially expected when again they said something along the lines of how they never expected a bad year because of how they take care of their clients. This time I asked what they meant. They kept saying “Cmon, you know what I mean” and stuff like that. They told me that when it comes to lon-lasting clients or important leads, they go above and beyond, making sure they are happy. I agreed with them, saying I do the same. They they said – no no, I mean really take care of them. When I probed, they said that their clients trust them to give them the best possible price, and in return they get favors. When I asked what these favors might be, they were initially coy about it, but gave me a recent example. They said they give some big client the star treatment, because that person’s wife is a deputy superintendent in the county where their kids go to school. They said it’s always good to make friends with people like that, because you never know when you will need a favor, like getting your kids into a good high school or even college, and in fact they already hit that lady up to help get their sister a job, and she said she will see what she can do. I again don’t remember exactly how I responded. I just remember feeling flabbergasted but acting like what tey told me was no big deal and saying something about how our company doesn’t appreciate us (I was trying to make them feel like I’m cool with what they told me). They agreed and said that for the most part, there aren’t that many opportunities available for us, but when they spot something, they always try to think of helping out people that can later help them.

Initially, I was thinking about going with this to HR, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that because I know it will come back to me. I also cannot just tell my boss about this because that person is close to Doe, and I guarantee they will not take my side or at least try to brush it off. I know it’s important to be a team player and support each other, but I’m pretty sure what I’m describing here is a big no-no. Worst of all, I don’t want it to reflect badly on me later on if anyone finds out.  A part of me just wants to pretend I didn’t hear it, and act like nothing happened. However, after some thought, I decided to first reach out to you and hear what the committee has to say. I read the material you provided online in the code of conduct, and I realize that in order for you to see this through, I might eventually need to give you their, and maybe even my name, but for the time being, I just want to get your take on it.

Here’s the second:

To members of the anonymous hotline, The location I wrote in the report is false. About a month ago, something was brought to my attention, which I want to report. Before I go into detail, I want to make sure the committee understands I refuse to reveal my identity and choose to remain anonymous. I don’t mind giving out the name of the person I am reporting, but that is only after I am promised that no one can find out I made the claim. The person I am reporting is a long-time employee. Recently, I found out that for invoices in at least one firm, (I found out it happened multiple times) he adds a large upcharge before having us send them out. I have no idea what he claimed under that upcharge, but I’m sure of it, because a buddy of mine working in that firm in their accounting department confirms it. I did a little digging and found that the invoices are always billed to the same customer- a big company we have been working with for a long time. At first, I thought that there’s still a chance nothing fishy is going on, and maybe I’m just not aware of all the details. However, after a while that same friend told me he asked around and turns out the person taking care of these invoices on their end is always the same guy, which my friend tells me is a bad apple. He said he checked, and all invoices are paid promptly and in full- no question asked, and that he personally saw the receipts. I then did some searching on social media (Facebook and Instagram of them and their family members) and found that the our guy and his culprit are actually related somehow. I’m not sure how, as they don’t share the same last name, but I can see that they have lots of pictures with each other attending weddings, fishing, on holidays and stuff like that. I realize how serious what I’m saying is, but I’m only coming to you after making sure that I’m not implicating someone innocent here. My friend at the other firm is someone I trust completely and agreed we shouldn’t do anything so until you guys get back to me. We both decided that no matter what we will not be going to our bosses or anyone on HR on this because we know then people will know it was us that found out. Please contact me as soon as possible and let me know what happens next.

Liz gave some solid advice in her blog about what to do if one of these lands on your desk, and you may want to take another peek at it. I don’t think anybody knows for sure what the game is here, but sending out a bunch of hoax emails seems to be a pretty good way to gum up the works of corporate whistleblower programs.

John Jenkins