Monday, June 24, 2024

Rathlin Island’s only shop avoids closure after £12k fraud

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Elaine Mitchell,North East Reporter

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Rathlin Island’s Co-Op Shop is described as the island’s lifeblood

Rathlin Island’s only shop has avoided closure after having almost £12,000 stolen in an online scam.

The future of the Co-Op Shop was in doubt after it is believed criminals used a phishing email to access its banking details.

However, the Co-Operative Bank has now returned the money to the business, saying it fell prey to a “common type of scam”.

Rathlin’s residents and shop staff have expressed relief the “island’s lifeblood” can stay open.

Ruari Morgan, the chairperson of the community cooperative that runs the shop, said they found out from the bank in March that “a standing order of £11,900 had been approved and the money had left the account”.

“Leaving us with nothing left in the account at all. So the shop was in real danger. We couldn’t afford to keep it going without that money”.


Ruari Morgan, the chairperson of the Co-Op Shop

Mr Morgan and others spent five weeks attempting to get the money back.

It was refunded a day after BBC News NI contacted the bank.

“Obviously we were relieved to finally get the money back. But it took 37 days to get that refund and that took a toll.

“I spent more than 40 hours on phone calls just trying to get a resolution. But getting to the end of it and getting the money back into the account is a relief.

“But it’s a bit of an accounting nightmare because I’ve been paying for stuff out of my own account to keep the shop operating, so we need to get the books all balanced again.”

With Rathlin Island’s very low crime rate, the incident has shocked people.

“Everyone is now aware of how easily these scams can happen and it’s shown that we’re not immune to this type of stuff on Rathlin,” said Mr Morgan.

He has also taken precautions to stop it happening again.

“We’ve purchased a new laptop which will only be used for our HMRC stuff and payroll. Absolutely no web browsing or email or anything else will be done on that laptop and hopefully that will protect us a bit.”

Shop Assistant

Aoife Molloy works in the shop is relieved it is safe from closure

Rathlin Island’s focal point

Aoife Molloy, a staff member in the shop, said she has been worried for weeks about its future.

“It’s been scary to be honest. I am very lucky to have a job that’s all-year round – there aren’t many of them on the island.

“And if I lost this one I’d probably have to leave Rathlin and that would break my heart. I’ve been here 15 years and can’t imagine ever living anywhere else.”

Noel McCurdy, a regular customer, said it had been a worrying time for islanders.

“We need our local shop. People can shop in Ballycastle or shop online but the shop is a focal point for the island community, people meet up here in the mornings to pass the gossip around.

“It’s part of the community.”

Shop customer

Noel McCurdy is a regular customer at the Co-Op Shop

‘Anyone can be targeted’

Another regular customer, Margaret McQuilkin, was shocked by news of the scam.

‘It’s dreadful, you never expect it to happen to you and certainly not to our little Co-Op Shop, which is the lifeblood of the island,”

But while crime is rare on Rathlin Island scams like this are becoming more and more common across Northern Ireland.

PSNI Ch Supt Gerard Pollock, chair of the ScamwiseNI Partnership, said everyone needs to be vigilant.

“Criminals can now access banking and personal data by exploiting communication networks through phones, social media, emails or text messages.

“Anyone can be targeted. Never click on links in text messages or emails from someone you do not know and never reply to suspicious numbers or emails.”


The community shop is an important part of life on Rathlin

‘Extremely sorry’

The Co-Operative Banking Group said it is “extremely sorry” that this happened and encouraged customers to remain vigilant.

“We sympathise with the distress caused and have refunded the full amount lost.

“We want to reassure our customers that we have robust security controls in place to protect them from fraud.

“We do ask that customers remain vigilant when it comes to suspicious activity on their account and never share key account or security information with anyone.”

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