Judge ‘frightened’ by Longford fraudsters’ ability to hack woman’s email account in €80k scam

A local Circuit Court judge has said it’s frightening how easy it was for fraudsters to hack into a woman’s email account in a scam involving nearly €80,000.

Judge Keenan Johnson made his comments in the case of a 49-year-old Longford based man who avoided jail after acting as a so-called “money mule.”

Longford Circuit Court heard that the victim in the case, Ann Dempsey, had received an inheritance of €150,000 which she invested with a Galway based financial company in 2016.

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In May of that year she went to Galway Garda Station after logging into her online account and noticing that €78,250 had been taken out.

Sgt Jimmy Cronolly said that emails purporting to be from the victim had requested that a bond to that value be transferred from Irish Life to the defendant’s account at Ulster Bank, Main Street, Longford.

It transpired that these emails which were described by the judge as “pressurised” were not from Ms Dempsey, who was completely unaware of what was happening, and whose account had been hacked into by a third party who was not the accused.

The defendant, an unemployed father of three, told gardai that he allowed his Ulster Bank account to be used by a man he knew called Benecolo, an accountant, whom he had first met in London in 2006.

He said he had been assisting this man who claimed he was coming to Ireland to buy tractors which he was planning to send to Africa.

The court heard that the accused, who cannot be named, was in “dire financial straits” and Judge Keenan Johnson described him as being “naive in the extreme” in allowing himself be used as a “money mule.”

He also said it was frightening how easy Ms Dempsey’s email account had been hacked and he said a key lesson to be learned was for email instructions to be followed up with a phone call to verify their authenticity in these situations.

It was noted that all of the money taken from the victim’s account had been reimbursed to her by Irish LIfe.

Judge Johnson sentenced the defendant, who had pleaded guilty to money laundering, to 240 hours community service taking into consideration a number of factors including his early plea and that he had no significant prior convictions.