A WEST Cork builder was conned out of €3,500 in an online banking scam, which nearly cost the couple he’s building a house for €50,000 – a sum he said would have folded his construction company.
Bandon gardaí, who have passed details of the case onto Interpol, have traced the crime to Nigeria and are warning people, regardless of their occupation, to be vigilant about their online security, and in particular their password strength.
The builder employs a highly experienced accountant technician to manage his office, and while the modus operandi used in this scam has been around for a while, it didn’t have any of the usual giveaway signs such as mis-spelled words or poorly phrased English.
It began when the builder got an expected electronic invoice from an electrician for the sum of €3,500.
He then got a second email, purporting to be from the electrician, requesting that the payment be made to a new bank account, which he did.
However, he met the electrician shortly afterwards and he reminded him about his outstanding bill, sounding immediate alarm bells.
‘I followed it up with the bank a few days later but they said that the money was long gone. They said that if I had gone about it immediately, there would have been some chance of freezing the payment. As the mistake was mine, and not the bank’s, I’m the one out of pocket,’ he said.
What happened next was more alarming.
‘I had sent an invoice out to a client for €50,000. What the scammer started doing then was sending emails to this person signed from me or my office manager. They were pushy and quite forceful, demanding immediate payment.
‘Luckily my client was waiting for his own bank to transfer funds, and having got the forceful emails, came to me to tell me that, which caused the penny to drop with me.
‘At that stage I was panicking, as I had been due another big payment from a client, but fortunately that hadn’t been lodged.’
The builder reported the matter to gardaí and has since learned anecdotally that someone in the farm machinery industry in West Cork, who buys a lot of stock from the UK, lost €40,000 in the same way.
Gardaí from Bandon, including a member of the force based in Clonakilty with expertise in this area, have examined the company’s computers which traced the crime to Nigeria via an IP address.
It’s thought the scammers had been monitoring and holding the building firm’s emails for around a month before they struck in what’s called ‘Invoice Redirect Fraud.’
Det Gda Peter Nolan of Bandon Garda Station said this was a recent development in online fraud that targeted smaller business in particular.
He advised that the best protection was to use paid-for email providers which are more difficult to hack and if in any doubt over the origin of an invoice, to pick up the phone and check with a person known to you.
Both the builder and his office manager are stressing the authenticity and professionalism of the scam.
The office manager said: ‘It’s disappointing but hopefully this warning will help others.’