Employee who fell for £200k email scam feared she would lose her home

Image caption,
Patricia Reilly was asked to make payments to an unknown company

A woman who was sued by her former employer over a £200,000 email scam feared she would lose her house in the "legal nightmare".

Patricia Reilly was sacked from Peebles Media Group in Glasgow when she fell victim to the scam.

She told BBC Scotland how she has been unable to earn a living for the last four years and feared having to pay back thousands of pounds.

However, a judge at Scotland's highest civil court ruled in her favour.

The Court of Session was told that a scammer posed as the firm's director Yvonne Bremner via email in October 2015.

Ms Reilly was asked to make a number of payments to an unknown company.

On Friday Lord Summers ruled: "The fraudster is the real culprit whoever he or she (or possibly they) may be.

"The pursuers have suffered a major loss. The defender has lost her employment. It is a tragic case."

'My world was turned upside down'

In the four years following the scam, Ms Reilly said she suffered further traumatic experiences which contributed to her "terrible journey".

Her partner died after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) and her mother also died from dementia.

"It's absolutely turned my world upside down in a lot of ways," she said. "I've no job, no livelihood, no means of looking after myself.

"There's so many knock-on traumatic experiences - you're trying to keep bringing yourself back from the last one and the legal nightmare is still rolling.

"Today I'm very relieved at moment but it might not be over as yet. We've a lot more legal information to digest and work out."

It was alleged that Ms Reilly, from Bishopbriggs, Dunbartonshire, ignored a warning from bankers about con artists tricking employees into making payments to companies.

Peebles Media Group attempted to claim £107,984 from the former employee - the sum outstanding after the bank refunded more than £85,000 of the almost £200,000 stolen.

Image source, Edinburgh courts
Image caption,
The company director Yvonne Bremner gave evidence at the Court of Session in Edinburgh

As part of her defence, Ms Reilly had claimed that her employer had contributed to the loss by not providing training on identifying fraud.

She said that at the time, she made the "relevant checks" to make sure she was carrying out procedures correctly.

Ms Reilly added: "This was four years ago and there's a lot more information out on social media and in the world, the corporate world nowadays that wasn't as available and made public to companies then.

"I would hope that this will highlight the difficulties that are there and things need to be tightened up to avoid what has happened to me."

'Whaling' fraud

In his ruling, Lord Summers wrote that Ms Reilly had fallen victim to a whaling fraud.

Unlike phishing scams which send out a large number of emails to many recipients, whaling scams target specific people or businesses.

Image source, Google
Image caption,
Glasgow firm Peebles Media brought the action against Mrs Reilly

The court heard that Ms Reilly handed over a total of £193,250 of the company's money to fraudsters after they emailed her on 9 October.

Suspicions were raised a few days later when colleague Rosemary Morris logged onto the firm's online bank account and noticed a fraud warning.

Mrs Reilly was accused of ignoring warnings on the banking system as she made payments.

Ms Morris contacted Ms Bremner who was on holiday in Tenerife.

Other signs

Lord Summers ruled he was unable to say whether Ms Reilly was in breach over the bank warnings but that it would not have "altered the outcome".

He added: "I am persuaded however that the defender acted in breach of her obligation of reasonable skill and care in transferring funds from the invoice financing account to the current account. I consider she did this on her own initiative.

"Although I consider her unilateral decision to transfer company funds without any authority was in breach of contract I do not consider that the loss that ensued was the natural consequence of the breach."

Ms Bremner claimed that Mrs Reilly should have been suspicious of elements of the email communication - such as the unusual email address and the word choice.

However, Lord Summers said the word choice was "not unusual" and he was "not satisfied on the evidence adduced" that the fraudster's email address was visible.

In his ruling Lord Summers noted the animosity between the two women. Ms Bremner said she did not get on with Mrs Reilly and called her the "office gossip".

Lord Summers said: "There were therefore many indications that she was ill disposed to the defender."

But he added: "I do not consider the way they gave evidence to be necessarily connected to their truthfulness or reliability."

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