Two fraudsters who preyed on law firms to con them into transferring them money have been jailed. Okwudili Chinze and Ahmed Otun conspired to send emails purporting to be from finance directors indicating a change in payment details.

The email would ask them to transfer a sum of money and the recipient, believing the email to be genuine, would pay the sum into an account run by them.

As well as law firms, the pair also targeted sports clubs and village halls and are thought to have conned organisations and businesses out of £300,000 in total.

Chinze, 44 and of no fixed abode, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and money laundering. On Friday at Kingston Crown Court, he was sentenced to two years and eight months’ imprisonment.

Otun, 41 and from Dagenham, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and money laundering, and was jailed for four years.

Following the sentencing, acting detective sergeant Matt Wigg, of the Met Police’s fraud team codenamed FALCON, said businesses must be careful when moving and transferring money.

‘Many of the victims linked to this case were tricked into sending money to criminals’ accounts after they were sent a spoof email with change of payment details,’ he said. ‘Always verify changes to financial arrangements with the organisation or person directly on the phone, or go via the company’s main switchboard to check if an email is genuine. Never reveal bank account details via email or on unsecure networks.’

Police had linked various frauds after they came to light, and began a joint investigation. The offences were linked and detectives discovered the men had set up a company named Britannia Security to give a veneer of legitimacy. This account was used to receive the majority of the defrauded funds.

Chinze and Otun, both Nigerian nationals, have been disqualified from directorships for 10 years.

Law firms have been warned to beware of mandate fraud, when someone gets the victim to change a direct debit, standing order or bank transfer mandate by purporting to be an organisation they make regular payments to, such as a business supplier.