Belfast Telegraph

Priest on his bike in bid to replace £86k stolen by scammer

By Mark Bain

A Northern Ireland priest is taking on a 100-mile cycle to help recoup some of the £86,000 in parish funds lost in an internet scam.

The money, gathered for the upkeep and repair of three chapels in Banagher Parish, Co Londonderry was stolen last December.

Fr Patrick Baker (55) is hoping local people will sponsor him for the 'Inishowen 100 Challenge' on August 19 and there is an open invitation for any keen cyclists who wish to join him to get in touch.

"It's been a tough few months," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "It was quite a substantial amount of money that the parish lost. We were all understandably upset at the time."

A fraudster, posing as an engineer, had contacted the parish and claimed its broadband had been hacked and was under attack. The scammer told the local priest he would need remote access to the computer to fix the problem, but instead stole the money.

Fr Baker said the funds had been saved for the three chapels in the area - St Joseph's in Banagher, St Peter's and St Paul's, Foreglen and St Mary's in Altinure, Park.

"We were all hit hard by what happened last December, but the community spirit has been superb and no-one is attaching any blame to anyone for the loss," he said.

"You can't turn the clock back, but I was thinking of ways to start looking forward and trying to recoup even a little of the money.

"I've always been a keen cyclist, but I've never taken on anything like this before. I felt a need to try to do something and if anyone wants to join me they're more than welcome.

"We've just released the sponsorship forms across the three chapels in the parish and I'll be delighted if the effort raises even a fraction of what was lost."

Police have revealed almost £80,000 has been conned out of scam victims in Northern Ireland in the last four weeks alone.

PSNI Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said: "We have put out a number of warnings about scams, but we have seen a particular increase in the number of scams where some type of broadband issue is raised.

"The phone call is normally teed up by the person on the other end of the phone saying 'there is a problem with your broadband', be it a speed issue or some other type of security issue.

"The person is then asked a number of questions and they are given a series of instructions about what to do. Sometimes, the person either deliberately or inadvertently will download software, and that software will allow the scammer access to the person's computer.

"Once they are into their computer, they can get into their online bank account and the money disappears.

"These scams are morphing all the time. The hard and fast rule is that if there's even 1% of doubt, don't do anything. Don't be polite. You can always call back a company later if you feel it may have been a genuine call.

"This is a daily problem and anyone who thinks they may have been targeted by fraudsters should not be embarrassed and contact the PSNI.

More information is on the Scamwise Facebook page or at www.nidirect.gov.uk/scamwiseni

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