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The mysterious case of the dodgy VocaLink hotmail account

Another day, another sorry tale of dirty tricks, identity theft and corporate espionage on the Finextra news beat. Intrigued? Then read on. I promise you won't be disappointed.

A couple of weeks back the Finextra news desk received an e-mailed press release announcing the acquisition of niche payments consulting firm The Sepa Consultancy by US tech house Capital Markets Technologies.

The release contained a link to a quarterly SEC filing by CMT which detailed a $1.99 million investment in The Sepa Consultancy. Another link pointed to an investor relations conference call from October last year in which CMT's point man in Europe Philip Walsh stated categorically that CMT had acquired a number of European firms, including The Sepa Consultancy, Strike IT, Simplex and iBase.

All seemed above board so we ran the story. Then the phone calls started coming in.

First off Philip Walsh called wondering where we had got the story from, as CMT had not approved any press coverage.

The e-mail outlining the deal was sent by darrellfielding@hotmail.co.uk. Darrell Fielding is a director of The Sepa Consultancy, but he refuted the story and claimed instead that somebody else must have set up the hotmail account under his name with the sole purpose of undermining The Sepa Consultancy's proclaimed independent status in the market.

Even though the publicly available evidence appeared compelling, we pulled the item while awaiting clarification from CMT and The Sepa Consultancy of the true status of their relationship.

In the meantime, we tracked the IP address of the original hotmail release to see if we could discover the identity of the sender. Unbelievably, this pointed to a computer housed by the bank-owned ACH VocaLink.

Now, we're not suggesting that a reputable company like VocaLink would engage in a dirty tricks campaign with the intention of sabotaging the activities of a small payments consultancy working in their market space.

But it is possible that a hot-desking contractor or maverick employee acting on his or her own account used a VocaLink PC to send the spoof e-mail. It's equally possible - although scarcely credible - that the IP address itself was spoofed in a deliberate attempt to throw any pursuers off the trail. But if that was the intention, why point to a company operating in exactly the same business sector as The Sepa Consultancy? Any other agenda would be just too Machiavellian.

Darrell Fielding, understandably, is hopping mad. He's been in contact with the City of London Police and the Fraud Squad with a view to pursuing an identity theft charge. CMT's lawyers in the US are also urging action.

While we can only guess at the motivation of the perpetrator, VocaLink could help clear up the confusion - and the residual slurs on its corporate reputation -  by handing over all e-mail records sent from its premises on 30/04/09 to an independent team of forensic investigators. I expect The Sepa Consultancy and CMT will be in touch in due course.

In the interim, CMT has issued a statement in an effort to clarify its relationship with The Sepa Consultancy.

"During early 2008 Capital Markets Technologies Inc (CMT) looked at the potential acquisition of the SEPA Consultancy which is one of the leading consultancies in Europe focused on the payments industry and the impact on it of SEPA and the PSD. This review resulted in CMT entering into a Letter of Intent which would have allowed for a 100% purchase by CMT of the SEPA Consultancy Limited's common shares for an agreed figure payable over three years in both cash and stock in CMT. The SEPA Consultancy provided high-level input to CMT's European go to market strategy as well as its vision for how it could then migrate the business proposition across other continents. In addition the SEPA Consultancy was asked to help engage Strike IT - a wholly owned CMT subsidiary - across a number of financial institutions. Given market conditions over recent months and the fact that CMT maintains an excellent working relationship with the SEPA Consultancy, whose senior staff CMT considers to be among the smartest in the industry, CMT has decided not to pursue the transaction thereby avoiding any forward demands on CMT to execute a fund-raising at the current price. Accordingly, it is intended that shareholdings in both CMT Inc and the SEPA Consultancy will revert to their original ownership at the point when the LOI was signed."

So there you have it - or not as the case may be.

I could muddy the waters further by dredging up some ancient history - that may or may not be relevant - regarding a Sierra Leone fisheries contract involving the notorious Clobus 'Blood Diamonds' Claessens.

But on second thoughts, I think I've had enough excitement for one day.

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Comments: (1)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 13 May, 2009, 05:11Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

VocaLink claim never to have lost a transaction since they started business - I'm sure they will be able to find this one!

Paul Penrose

Paul Penrose

Head of Research

Finextra

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06 Oct 2006

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London

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