Leona O'Neill

Leona O'Neill has been a journalist in Northern Ireland for over 20 years working with, among others, the Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life, Daily Mirror and the Irish News. She is also a news reporter on Q Radio, a weekly columnist with the Irish News and a commentator for the BBC. She is a mother of four children - two of them teenagers - and as such is also a full-time professional worrier.

Staying one step ahead of digital fraudsters, scammers and thieves


There is not a week that goes by that we are not being warned of some new manner of loathsome individuals scamming us out of money.

Last week the PSNI urged the Northern Irish public to be vigilant after an individual in Mid-Ulster was defrauded of £21,000 after falling foul to scammers who had targeted their online bank account.

The people behind these scams have no morals and no mercy. They are using technological advancements for malicious intent. Their ultimate goal is to get our money and they care little for anything else.

They seem to target older, more vulnerable people in their actions, phoning pensioners in particular, who they maybe assume will be less tech savvy and easier to manipulate. And every week, their tactics change.

In recent weeks the police say that there has been an upsurge in scammers phoning the public purporting to be from computer broadband and search engine providers. They warn that their online bank accounts have been hacked or there is a problem with their wireless router or broadband speed.

Typically the victim then gives the scammer remote access to their computer to fix the issue. Once the scammer is in to the computer and personal details are given by the victim, their online bank accounts can be accessed and significant amounts of money lost. Money they may well never get back.

The scammers may also advise their intended victim they are due a financial refund and ask for details of their bank account in relation to this which they will then target.

My own mother, a smart, savvy, take-no-nonsense woman in her late 70s was targeted by scammers a few weeks back. She said a man called her home telephone and said there was a problem with her online banking and he wanted to put things right. She said he sounded completely legitimate, that there were other people in the background talking as if they were in a call centre and that he was very friendly and helpful.

But my Mum is wise to these scams, having a journalist daughter who keeps her constantly informed of the latest efforts of the most unsavoury of digital bandits intent on theft. She asked the guy questions, tied him up in knots and told him she thought he was a scammer. He swore to her he wasn’t, remained friendly and funny, and gave her a number to call back on.

When she called back they answered in a professional manner, only adding to the deceit. She realised – as I had told her to look out for this trick – that they had stayed on the telephone, even providing the ring and dialling tone. It was only when she called her bank from her mobile phone and explained the situation that she was told for certain that it wasn’t them, that they would never make a call like that.

My Mum’s friend from across the street got a call the same week from a woman pretending to be from Microsoft, saying she had been made aware she had a serious virus on her laptop and they wanted to help her remove it before it destroyed her hard drive. She asked her to download some software onto her computer so she could get remote access and sort the problem out. She hung up on them.

It makes me sick to think that older people are being taken advantage of and having their life savings stripped from their accounts by heartless thieves manipulating technology for their own malevolent means.

We all need to be ahead of the game if they want to beat these daylight digital robbers. We need to be aware of their actions, and pass that information on to those who might not be as plugged in as we are to the news of latest scams.

We need to press home the following tips:
  1. You need to always be wary of individuals who cold call you
  2. Do not allow any cold caller remote access to your computer
  3. Be especially suspicious of anyone who asks for personal details, money, banking or credit card information via the telephone
  4. If you are at all suspicious about a call that you receive, hang up and phone the organisation that the person is purporting to represent to check their authenticity. Ideally make the call from another telephone so you can be sure the original caller has not remained on the line. Never be pressured into a transaction over the phone
  5. Guarding your personal and banking details is essential. Never disclose them to any unauthorised person or allow anyone access to them via your computer
  6. Just as technology has progressed and given us so many benefits in modern life, it has also handed those with good technological scope, but less than good intentions, a licence to steal and destroy. It’s up to us to stay one step ahead of them, always.
  7. If you have received a scam call or are concerned by the intent of unsolicited calls, emails or letters then please report it to Action Fraud via their website www.actionfraud.police.uk

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