Businesswoman fighting back after cyber attack forces closure of firms

A businesswoman has been forced to close her estate agents and property consultancy firms in Staffordshire after coming under attack from cyber criminals, causing her to lose tens of thousands of pounds and lay off staff.

Businesswoman fighting back after cyber attack forces closure of firms

Linda Whitehouse, who ran Whitehouse Property Group and also Uno Property from a base in Market Street, Hednesford, said she was left devastated after the attack by eastern European criminals and was forced to close both firms just before Christmas.

But the former district councillor, who defected to UKIP from the Conservative party in 2013 and is standing in this year's local elections in the Hednesford North ward, is refusing to accept defeat and is now launching an academy to help other entrepreneurs start their own businesses.

The crime came to light following an abnormality in her phone bill but by the time the 54-year-old realised something was wrong last March, the criminals had run up a huge bill.

The thieves also used hacked login details to gain access to the mother-of-two's bank account and clone card details.

Her bank has restored her lost money but she said she was left without phone lines or internet for four months between May and August last year, crippling her businesses, due to her phone company disconnecting services.

Mrs Whitehouse, who is chairwoman of Hednesford Traders' Association and was a Cannock Chase councillor for Rawnsley between 2010 and 2014, said: "It came as a real shock. It had a tremendous effect on the business. It has been the toughest year I've probably ever had and it was devastating.

"They stole my identity. They planted a virus and wiped out seven years of history.

"They damaged my reputation and affected my credit rating. It's taken its toll and it has affected my health. I had to make a decision over what to do. I didn't want to give up.

"The police told me I was one of around 15,000 people in the UK who had been targeted in the same way over the previous 18 months by eastern European criminals.

"This is the fastest growing crime at the moment. There needs to be support for victims quicker."

She lost more than £28,000 in the ordeal and seven members of staff also lost their jobs as the businesses, which she set up in 2009 and 2011 respectively, closed on December 16 last year.

But Mrs Whitehouse, who lives in Hednesford, said the creation of two new companies, which she will set up from her shop in the town, will create around five jobs and an apprentice position.

Acorn Enterprise Academy will offer a 20-week course to help people set up their own businesses, with the first course due to start next month.

Mrs Whitehouse, who has set up and run several ventures in the past including a fancy dress costume business and a hotel in Cornwall, said: "Sadly my businesses have gone but I am launching an enterprise academy to help others get into business. I will bring staff in and trainers to do that.

"I would like to employ five people if we can get the support and funding. We will do workshops and seminars."

The prolific entrepreneur, who set up her first business at the age of 27 and is also setting up a nutrition and weight loss challenge company, Body by Vi Challenge, added: "I'm not IT literate, so I didn't realise the risk of a cyber attack was as high as it is.

"Until it happens to you, you don't think it's possible. It's scary, but people should know the danger."

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