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Fake Email Puts Barclays CEO on the Spot

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 24, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

At a roast, at least one joke cuts so close that the audience laughs only because people aren't sure how to react.

It happened at a roast recently for Jes Staley, chief executive officer for Barclays. The bank was hosting its annual shareholder meeting, where Staley got the brunt of jokes about a prankster who fooled him with a message posing as the bank's chairman.

Staley had to laugh it off for the shareholders, but the spoofed email was a serious matter. It resulted in a government investigation and a pay cut for Staley over the way he handled it.

Heightened Email Security

As a result of the incident, Barclays has activated a warning message whenever an employee sends a message to an external email address on a mobile device. That's because the fake email came as "sent from iPhone" to cover up the legal disclosures that accompany corporate email.

As it turned out, the prank was an inside job. A disgruntled Barclays shareholder told the Financial Times that he took advantage of the fact that most email systems don't show a sender's full address unless the recipient clicks on the sender's name.

In the email, the prankster complained about the hiring of a mid-level executive. He used the chairman's name with a gmail address to cover his tracks.

"If you try to be too clever or it's too spurious or forced it will more than likely get rumbled," the prankster told the Times. "Keep it short to begin with and ideally reference something that will ring true. People accept a bit of bizarre once they feel they're in the saddle of the communication."

Government Investigation

Staley bit on the fake email, but later learned it was a phony and tried to find out who sent it. That sent him from the frying pan into the fire.

Authorities are investigating how the bank investigated the matter. According to the New York Post, Barclays may have violated laws that protect whistleblowers.

Staley told the board that he thought it was legal to unmask the prankster. Although the bank made a "very significant" cut to Staley's annual bonus, it has decided to keep him as CEO.

That depends on whether he can take a joke, of course.

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