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Antrim farmer's dismay as bank powerless to stop £150k online raid of his account

James Alexander’s business account lost €150,000 in a matter of hours
James Alexander’s business account lost €150,000 in a matter of hours

By Chris McCullough

A Co Antrim farmer and businessman has issued a warning for others to be extra vigilant after his bank account was emptied by online criminals.

James Alexander, who runs a large beef and sheep farm near Toomebridge and a successful tractor sales business with his father Nelson, was helpless as criminals raided one of his business accounts and didn't stop until the full €150,000 had been swiped.

However, James and Nelson were "disappointed" with Danske Bank as the money continued to be siphoned out of the account after initial smaller illegal withdrawals were recognised by the bank and the account subsequently locked.

After two weeks of discussions with bank personnel, Danske Bank returned all of the money to the account - but has also issued its own warning to customers regarding the dangers of malware and the necessity for robust internet protection software.

Two weeks ago the bank called James to see if he had authorised some payments out of his sterling account to the value of £8,500. This account is rarely used and a sister account is held in euros to facilitate transactions for tractors and 4x4s sold to the Republic of Ireland.

The hackers were able to infiltrate the system and transfer all the funds from the euro account into the sterling account before withdrawing the funds from there.

James said: "We do not use that sterling account frequently so when the bank called and asked if we had authorised large transactions it was a shock.

"The bank was told immediately that this must be online fraud and we instructed them to stop all transactions immediately.

"At that point we were locked out of the account and could not open it online but we had previously noticed someone had taken a couple of smaller amounts of £1,500 out of the account."

Being locked out of his own account, James could not monitor what was going on and was later devastated to be told by the bank that the entire account had been cleared.

"Even after we told the bank this was fraud and a hold was put on the account, the criminals managed to continue to take all the funds out of the account, which we could not understand," said James.

"The most disappointing aspect was that the money was drawn out of the account after the original phone call at 3.30pm. By 7.30pm all money was gone and we were not informed of this for 10 days.

"We only found out by accident after we asked the bank to release some euros to pay bills and the person on the phone said there were none. The bank should have told us the account had been cleared."

James is urging all farmers and business owners to keep a close eye on their accounts. He said: "Check your accounts regularly and report any suspicious activity. Use the bank's suggested protection and take any advice onboard that they supply at the very least so that if it does happen the bank cannot shift blame.

"We are now getting a standalone tablet just for internet banking with no email access as the virus was transmitted from an email."

Robert McCullough from Danske Bank said: "We are aware of a cyber attack on the bank accounts of a local business and have worked with the owners to ensure that all security protocols are in place and up to date.

"This type of an attack reflects the increasing activity and sophistication of criminal elements and underlines the need for all businesses to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to safeguard the online security of their systems, particularly in guarding against the introduction of malware.

"Doing business online is a fundamental requirement for many of us in today's world and the digitalisation of how we work will only accelerate in the years ahead but making sure that proper security is in place and maintained is key."

Belfast Telegraph