Almost €20m lost to scams as fraudsters are posing as bank officials

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Sophisticated cryptocurrency frauds are being dropped in favour of phone and email scams where the criminals pose as reputable bank officials. Specialist gardaí are now investigating multiple cases of investment fraud, including a probe in which they managed to get back €2m from one man. It is part of an estimated €4m that officers from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) have recovered this year. Since January, it is believed almost €20m has been scammed from Irish people in investment and online frauds. Detectives said bogus cryptocurrency scams are no longer the most prominent type of investment fraud, even though they previously accounted for over 95pc of cases. “In the last few months, what has become more and more common is that victims have been contacted often by phone or by email by fraudsters who are saying they work for legitimate, high-profile British banks or trading houses,” a source said. “These people are very believable and often speak with upper-class English accents and have a full sales pitch – millions of euro have been lost this way so far this year in Ireland. “They can provide charts, graphs, ‘proof’ that they are registered with the Central Bank and so on – it’s highly sophisticated. “Cryptocurrency has something of a bad name at the moment among some investors, mainly because of some major international court cases and scandals that have made people nervous to invest. “So inevitably the organised gangs behind this are changing tack and the evidence is that the banking scams are the way they are making the most money now in terms of investment fraud, which is absolutely massive at the moment.” The criminals create fake websites for investment products or clone real ones, with the victim either transferring funds directly or downloading software on to their computer, which can be used to drain bank accounts. Increasingly, fraudsters are sending sophisticated brochures or other materials that might be barely distinguishable from the original documents. Many of the victims who are targeted are people who have retired and are tricked into investing their savings in complicated bogus operations controlled by international gangs. “The average age of the victims in these cases is between 50 and 55. “Many have been very successful business people, which means there can be huge embarrassment when they realise they have been scammed, and this means that this type of crime has been very much underreported to gardaí. “The sad reality is that a lot of people have lost their hard-earned financial nest eggs in organised investment frauds.” Detectives have identified well over 20 UK bank accounts used by the fraudsters, but have not yet discovered which gang is behind the spate of crime. “There have been some good results in terms of recovering money, including of course the €2m that had been stolen, but gardaí have such a very short window of opportunity to do this – often if they are not notified of the fraud within two days, it can be very difficult to get the money back. “The other issue with this type of crime is that it tends to be very slow before it is reported to gardaí because the victims do not know that they have been scammed until they try to withdraw the money they have invested in the scam. “Sometimes it is years before they release they are victims of an investment fraud.” Fraudsters have also been increasingly using bogus details of legitimate Irish banks such as Bank of Ireland and AIB. Last week, Bank of Ireland said tell-tale signs of a fraud include pressurising people into acting quickly and without thinking. The criminals often instruct victims to make an urgent payment. The GNECB is part of an international police operation called Operation HAECHI III, which is co-ordinated by Interpol. In a five-month period last year, the operation led to the arrest of almost 1,000 suspects worldwide and the recovery of over €123m. “In total, the operation resulted in the arrest of 975 individuals and allowed investigators to resolve more than 1,600 cases,” Interpol said in a statement last November. “In addition, almost 2,800 bank and virtual-asset accounts linked to the illicit proceeds of online financial crime were blocked.”

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