Home » This UK island has only one shop – and it almost just closed for good

This UK island has only one shop – and it almost just closed for good

Rathlin Island’s distance from the Northern Irish mainland makes crime a rarity, but that hasn’t saved it from cyber fraud (Picture: Geoff Moore/REX/Shutterstock)

Northern Ireland only has one inhabited island, and that island only has one shop.

But the ‘isolated’ Rathlin Island nearly lost its only shop, run by a community group, to a ‘common’ £12,000 online scam.

Residents living off the north coast of County Antrim were at risk of being forced to ferry to the mainland to buy basic supplies after criminals used a phishing email to access the Co-Op Shop’s banking details.

This island is not a place accustomed to crime.

Northern Ireland’s most northern point is so isolated that Irish – or Gaeilge – was still the community’s common language well into the 20th century.

Even by the 2021 census, a third of people could speak it and roughly 7% spoke it weekly.

There are more different species of birds than there are people on Rathlin Island (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Just 140 people live amid the ‘rugged landscape’ of the six-mile long and one-mile wide island, according to Northern Ireland’s official tourism website.

In fact, there are more different species of bird – 176 – on Rathlin Island than there are people.

Home to Northern Ireland’s largest seabird colony, its cliffs looking out to the Atlantic Ocean are an ideal spot for birds to nest and raise their chicks, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said.

Among them are Puffins, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Fulmars and Corncrakes.

You can even spot seals basking in the sea.

Seals are frequent visitors to the waters around Rathlin Island (Picture: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

But this site of ‘tranquillity and beauty’ nearly had its ‘lifeblood’ snatched away by the ‘common type of scam’.

The shop ended up ‘with nothing left in the account at all’, according to Ruari Morgan, chair of the community cooperative that runs the shop.

Locals only realised what had happened after their bank revealed ‘a standing order of £11,900 had been approved and the money had left the account’.

Ruairi said: ‘The shop was in real danger. We couldn’t afford to keep it going without that money.’



What is a phishing scam?

‘Phishing’ involves scam emails, text messages, social media or phone calls that trick victims into visiting a website that downloads viruses to their computer or steals bank details and other personal information, according to the National Cyber Security Centre.

Online scams and phishing are on the rise in the UK, The Guardian reported.

The number of fraud cases rose 18% in 2023, doubling the cost of the crimes to £2,300,000,000, according to accounting firm BDO’s FraudTrack report.

PSNI Chief Superintendent Gerard Pollock, chair of the ScamwiseNI Partnership, said: ‘Anyone can be targeted.

‘Never click on links in text messages or emails from someone you do not know and never reply to suspicious numbers or emails.’

For an island where much employment is seasonal, the consequences could have been dire.

The community’s ‘focal point’, where people meet and ‘pass the gossip, would have been gone.

But more than that, it could have forced people to leave for good, not just for a shopping trip to Ballycastle, as six-mile ferry away on the mainland.

Aoife Molloy, a staff member in the shop, said: ‘It’s been scary to be honest. I am very lucky to have a job that’s all-year round – there aren’t many of them on the island.

This spot of ‘tranquility and beauty’ relies on its sole shop for food supplies, gossip and community (Picture: Geoff Moore/REX/Shutterstock)

‘And if I lost this one I’d probably have to leave Rathlin and that would break my heart.’

It took five weeks, with Ruairi spending more than 40 hours on the phone, to resolve the crisis.

But the the Co-operative Bank finally returned the money 37 days later after BBC News NI contacted it.

In a statement, the bank said: ‘We want to reassure our customers that we have robust security controls in place to protect them from fraud.

‘We do ask that customers remain vigilant when it comes to suspicious activity on their account and never share key account or security information with anyone.’

Ruairi told BBC: ‘Getting the money back into the account is a relief.

‘But it’s a bit of an accounting nightmare because I’ve been paying for stuff out of my own account to keep the shop operating, so we need to get the books all balanced again.’

He added they had bought a new laptop which would only be used for taxes and payroll, and ‘absolutely no web browsing or email’.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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