A Co Down based candle-making business is warning other small businesses to remain vigilant to scammers on the run-up to Christmas after they were conned out of £11,000.
ichael Morris first set up the Bearded Candlemakers in 2013 from his love of stories and scents.
The products have proved popular right across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, where he sells his candles in a number of stockists.
He took to social media to tell the story of being made a recent victim of what he has called an “horrendous scam” where the scammer posed as someone from their accountancy firm and paid visits to them in person, under the guise of helping them organise their finances.
The thousands of pounds Michael thought was going into a business account was, however, being siphoned into a crypto account which he has been told cannot be recovered.
He has since set up a GoFundMe page in the hope that friends and family members might be able to donate what they can to help keep the business afloat and to recoup any money they lost through the scam.
On the GoFundMe page, Michael said: “We’ve set this up at the kind request of our family and friends to help us through a pretty difficult time. We’ve been victims to an horrendous scam through the business.
“It has left us in a terrible situation, and we are unsure if we can get through it financially.”
He explained the scam started when they filled out a business survey they believed was sent by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to link local businesses together.
“It asked who my accountant was, the internet provider, our stationary supplier etc. Then followed with local suggestions to use instead. I filled it out and sent it back in the supplied envelope,” said Michael.
“Then a guy supposedly from ‘our’ accountancy firm called out to the studio, and that’s when it began.
“He introduced himself, and I mistakenly said it was nice to meet him in person, as I had only dealt with him over the phone and via email before — he was using the name of an actual person from the firm.
“He had come out to help me with my VAT returns, which he was able help with — he must have had training or experience with accounts/taxes/VAT. He was charming, friendly and knowledgeable.”
During these meetings, the scammer told Michael that he was supposed to be setting up payments that would pay bills, taxes, rent, etc — but these were not being paid and he was in fact directing the money into crypto accounts, which the police have since told the small business owner is “untraceable and won’t be recovered”.
“The amount stolen is in the region of £11,000 — but because almost all of that was tax payments, he has essentially stolen double that, because the tax still has to be paid,” he continued.
“Now we’re working our socks off to get through this, running workshops, pushing offers, going to markets and doing all we can, but it is a huge amount to get back.
“What has made it worse is that our material costs are spiralling out of control. In the current economic backdrop we don’t think we can survive without asking for help.
“I love my business. I love every scent I’ve made. I love every connection I’ve made. I have made incredible friends through the business. I have gotten to work with incredible people, and I have always felt that what we have is more than a candle business.
“So, that’s my story. I don’t want my candle journey to end here. If you can help in any tiny way, be it a quid, a like, a follow or pat on the back — that would be awesome.”
After only setting up the GoFundMe page three days ago, the small business has already recovered most of the money through the kindness of customers and people who have sympathised with their scamming ordeal.
As of this morning, over £9,700 was donated towards replacing the £11,000 stolen.
Police have also issued a warning to businesses to be “on guard” following the incident which they have pointed out was from a scammer in Downpatrick.
A PSNI spokesperson said: “We know how distressing it is for a business owner to be scammed out of their hard-earned money.
“It is important to remain vigilant. Scammers will go to great lengths to trick people and take advantage of their good faith.”
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