Buncrana musician escapes scammers

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A major, and very sophisticated, scam is ongoing in the North-West after it was confirmed a number of people were contacted this week by a conman, or conmen, posing as Microsoft engineers.

Well known local musician, Tom Byrne, from Buncrana, said he had a lucky escape on Monday last.

Mr. Byrne explained: “ This guy came on my mobile and gave his name as Jason Thomas and and said he was from Microsoft’s technical department. He said there were some problems with my email, that they were corrupted or defective or something, and that he would need to sort it out.

“It was all very matter of fact. He asked me was my computer turned on and I said that it wasn’t but that it wasn’t that far from me so I could quickly do so.

“This guy sounded plausible, professional and amicable - just like anyone doing a day’s work. The fact that he had my phone number and seemed to know exactly what he was doing made it seem kosher.

“When I turned on my computer he was then able to read out a code number for my computer which was totally correct. I am not sure about this but I have since been told that a lot of these numbers are standard but I didn’t know that then, and the fact that he had access to this number sort of authenticated that he was legit.”

However, Mr Byrne said it was more instinct than anything that made him suspicious.

“When he was coming to a close of our exchanges he asked me to confirm some details. At that stage something clicked. I was thinking to myself, ‘This is a Bank Holiday Monday - who works on a Bank Holiday?’ and the fact that he wanted details. At that stage I was not convinced one way or the other but something told me to ask him if I could speak to his supervisor before I confirmed any details. He gave me the number - 0161-4085413 - and told me it was a London number.

“I rang the number, and there was no reply. Needless to say at that stage it clicked with me then rather forcibly that this was a scam.”

The Buncrana man said that he then contacted a relative who is very computer savvy to ask him what was going on. This man was able to ascertain through very searches on the internet that the number given by the caller actually was traceable back to Manchester and it came up as a scam..

“I’m so glad I confirmed nothing for the guy who rang though I still supposed it’s possibly he might have been able to ascertain certain things from our conversation.”

Mr. Byrne said he then rang Microsoft in Dublin but the phone was answered by a security guard who told him that there was no one about on a Bank Holiday. He subsequently checked out Microsoft’s website where there was a warning that the company did not cold call customers, something he was not aware of.

The Journal also learned yesterday that a Derry woman was a victim earlier this week of a caller who gave the same number. We tried 01614085413 on two occasions and while the number rang out it was answered for about three seconds before going dead.

Tom Byrne: “The potential damage this scam could inflict is immense. For example anyone who does banking online could get their savings cleaned out. And the stress of that would be immense. I would urge people to be cautious. This was a very, very smooth operation.”