The falcon-maker robot targeted by cybercriminals

John Donald

John Donald told BBC Scotland his wife feared she might have a nervous breakdown

Entrepreneur John Donald is selling robotic falcons around the world, but still can’t believe he’s been the victim of cybercrime during the pandemic.

The tech-savvy grandfather said he was targeted by fraudsters as his family business struggled to cope with a 95% drop in turnover.

The 72-year-old was deeply suspicious but eventually gave in to their demands and transferred almost £100,000 to a fake bank account.

He told BBC Scotland: “When my wife walked through the door just at the end of this process, she thought I was having a nervous breakdown.

“It was very, very stressful. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

New figures released by Police Scotland show there has been a 68% increase in fraud since 2018, with 17,000 cases recorded last year – the vast majority online.

Mr Donald’s company in North Berwick, Robop, makes robotic peregrine falcons to control pest birds.

The company sold its products in 17 countries but was hit hard by Covid.

At 4:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon in December 2020, Mr. Donald was anxious about the future of the business when he received a call.

It triggered one of the worst experiences of his life.

Speaking in a fluent Edinburgh accent, the caller said he belonged to a joint banking task force and had discovered fraud on his account.

“I was under a lot of stress at the time and the way it was done was very, very sophisticated,” Mr Donald said.

His instinct was telling him that something was seriously wrong.

But when he asked questions, it became clear that the caller knew a lot about him and his business. Mr. Donald found their answers to be plausible.

Using another phone, he tried to call his bank, but was unable to reach.

Person typing on a keyboard

Person typing on a keyboard

The caller then increased the pressure.

“They basically said we have this time window because there’s a gap between what we see on our system and what you see on yours, so we need to wrap that up as quickly as possible,” Mr Donald said. .

“They asked me to transfer money from one account to another account in my name.

“It wasn’t a five-minute affair. It was an hour.

“I felt incredibly stupid afterwards, but at the time it seemed like the only option I had.”

A friend put Mr Donald in touch with Cyber ​​and Fraud Center Scotland and six weeks later his bank refunded the missing money.

The center’s general manager, Jude McCorry, said others had not been so lucky.

She added: “We saw a recent fraud where £700,000 was transferred on a property deal that went to the wrong account.

“It involved an individual rather than a company. It was huge and the investigation is still ongoing.

“Instead of always reacting to these crimes, we need to look at how we prevent them.”

Senior officers at Police Scotland believe cybercrime is massively under-reported and the latest figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

It has become such a challenge that the fraud detection rate has halved in recent years and now stands at around 16% of cases.

“There is a significant threat in Scotland”

Deputy Chief Constable Andy Freeburn has warned that Scottish crime groups are increasingly involved.

He said: “What we have seen over the last year is the emergence of serious organized crime groups operating in this space, trying to exploit the Scottish public through cyber, through fraud, and we are now actively working against these gangs.

“It’s something we’re not going to stop our exit from. There’s a significant threat in Scotland.

“We have success in identifying people and recovering money in consultation with banking and financial partners.

“But we’re also improving our prevention messaging, making it very clear to the public how they can help themselves by not giving details, making sure their software is up to date on their computer, and letting us know about any which is suspicious.”

Police Scotland is investing an additional £4.3m in its cybercrime strategy to purchase new equipment and provide training to all its operational officers.

The force has also developed a protocol to ensure its use of new technologies is ethically sound.

Meanwhile, Mr Donald said the public needs to know how sophisticated cyber scams can be.

He added: “My simple advice is to have your bank’s anti-fraud line on a speed dial on your mobile phone.

“And, for the bank, to please answer when people call these numbers.”

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