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All in this together: Great Barrington businesses help out store owners who lost money in cyber fraud

Cyber fraud can happen anywhere to anyone, as Molly and Aurélien de St. Andre, owners of Petit Pilou and Bon Dimanche, found out after falling victim to a social-engineering fraud.

Great Barrington — According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, in 2023 there were $12.5 billion in losses by people and businesses in America due to cybercrime. The FBI received 2,412 complaints daily, with an average of over 758,000 complaints per year.

Cybercrime takes many forms, including phishing, ransomware attacks, data breaches, and social engineering. According to the International Crime Police Organization (INTERPOL), “social engineering” is a broad term that refers to scams used by criminals to exploit a person’s trust to obtain money or to enable a subsequent crime. While social media is the most frequently used method for this crime, cyber criminals may find ways to contact or intercept the victim via phone, in person, or through email.

Cyber fraud can happen anywhere to anyone, as Molly and Aurélien de St. Andre found out after falling victim to a social-engineering fraud. The couple have owned the small business Petit Pilou for years, which is a children’s clothing company. Back in August, they opened their store Bon Dimanche at 32 Railroad St.

Molly told The Berkshire Edge that, to make their children’s clothes, the couple ordered high-quality organic fabric from Amaaya, a small family-owned fabric factory from the Uttar Pradesh region of northern India. “We are a very small company, and we do just one big purchase of fabric material every few years,” Molly said. “We are committed to the best, softest, and highest quality certified-organic garden that we get from that small factory in India.”

She said that to meet the minimum order, the couple places a “massive” order every two to three years. The order that she placed with Amaaya at the end of December was for 9,000 yards of fabric for $40,000. That is, Molly thought she was placing an order with Amaaya. “The correspondence between us and the Amaaya was being watched by a hacker,” Molly said. “The money from the payment goes to the factory that makes the order. I have a great relationship with the factory representative. A few weeks after I made the payment, the representative goes, ‘Hey, wait a minute, we don’t see the money in our account!’”

Molly explained that this did not make any sense to her because the transaction showed up in the couple’s bank account with Amaaya’s name on it. “We figured that, since the funds passed through many accounts like a normal international wire transfer, sometimes the transfer stopped somewhere,” Molly said. “We’ve had this happen before. It’s probably not a big deal.”

It was a big deal, however, as the money went to a social-engineering scammer who intercepted the couple’s $40,000 transaction. “It turns out I was corresponding with two different people: my usual representative and the thief who was posing as the representative,” she said. “The system we were using had been hacked into.”

Molly said that she pursued getting the money back through her insurance company Wheeler and Taylor, which is an underwriter of The Hartford, and through Lee Bank, which used an intermediary bank for the international transfer. As much as she pursued those channels, however, the couple could not get their $40,000 back, leaving both Molly and Aurélien in a crisis. “We don’t have the means to cover this kind of loss at all,” Molly explained. “We are at zero.”

Molly added that, without the money, the couple cannot afford the overhead of their physical store. She said that they also still need to purchase the fabric from India to make the children’s clothes for the business to survive. The factory is holding onto the fabric for them, but will only hold onto it for so long. “We’re in a very difficult place,” Aurélien said. “We don’t have the money, and we don’t have the goods.”

Joshua Irwin, owner of MoonCloud and the soon-to-be-opened JuJu’s, has started a GoFundMe campaign to help the couple earn back the money that they lost. The GoFundMe campaign, which is also being supported by local business owners of Homelove, Dare, and the Railroad Street Collective, has raised $6,447 as of press time on Friday, May 10.

“I bumped into Molly and Aurélien one day, and they didn’t look too happy,” Irwin said. “I asked them about what happened and they told me. I asked them how I could help because I wanted to do something. As a small-business owner, and as somebody who supports small businesses, I felt obligated to start this GoFundMe campaign.”

Irwin said that he has known the couple for many years. “To continue with the vibrancy of our community, it is important that we all contribute in small roles to help sustain the bigger picture,” Irwin said. “Everybody has had a very rough winter in Great Barrington, and Berkshire County as a whole. I honestly don’t feel that our business community is competitive. We’re all meant to boost each other up and create something attractive for locals.”

For more information, visit the GoFundMe campaign website.


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