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Dramatic rise in online scams during pandemic

Fraudulent emails and text messages tricking people to share personal and banking details increased during the Covid-19 crisis, according to gardaí.

They have also issued a warning to ‘staycationers’ who are being targeted by cyber criminals on fake and cloned websites purporting to sell holiday equipment. 

The bogus websites advertise caravans, campervans and small pleasure boat sales in a bid to defraud people. 

These websites ask potential purchasers to send a deposit in advance of a sale but the purchaser never receives what they have paid for. 

Detective Chief Superintendent Patrick Lordan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau  said: “The criminal gangs behind these scams are very organised. 

“At the moment we are seeing quite a substantial amount of people looking to buy a new camper van, a new caravan, or a new small pleasure boat. Obviously, a lot of people plan to holiday in Ireland this year. 

“We have seen websites set up – bogus websites, cloned websites – and the criminal gangs behind them are asking people to send them a deposit for a new campervan, or new boat, and lo and behold they never see the product and the money is gone.” 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Det Chief Supt Lordan urged people to be vigilant and stressed online payments should never be made to an unknown person or entity. 

He said that people can be a “little careless” when it comes to buying products online. 

“For some reason when people are online they trust the computer in front of them and they shouldn’t do that. Stop and think before you pay the money over,” he said. 

Fraudulent emails and text messages seeking to access people’s personal and banking details increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

An Post and DPD – Ireland’s largest courier companies – have both issued warnings about fake emails and text messages where their branding is used.

These emails and text messages look for people’s personal details or an additional payment for a failed parcel delivery. 

DPD, Chief Information Officer Colin Kennedy said: “Since Covid there has been a tremendous increase in online shopping. With that growth we have also witnessed and increase in fraudulent activity and we have advised consumers to engage with the gardai where they have seen this happening.” 

Anna McHugh, An Post’s Head of Communications, said some fraudsters “have become quite adept and sophisticated in replicating the brands of reputable companies.” 

She said An Post uses a brand protection service to monitor the company’s brand online. If fake emails and SMS are detected, they are eradicated. 

“When we come across any of these scam emails or texts we immediately take them down,” she added. 

The Revenue Commissioners has been targeted many times too and it regularly issues advisories reminding people not to respond to these scams. 

Spokesperson Leeann O’Kelly said the fraudulent emails and text messages often offer a refund of tax or request a payment for tax owing. 

She said these are “random contacts from fraudsters who are trying to trick people in to providing personal information.

“It is really important that we issue these reminders and let taxpayers know that we never send emails or even text messages requiring the provision of personal information whether that be a link or a pop up window or a reply email.” 

Det Chief Supt Lordan said banks are also impacted and gardaí have noted a “dramatic increase in this type of activity especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic”. 

He said people should be aware that “no delivery company, no financial institution, or revenue or anybody else – or An Garda Síochána – will ask for your bank details or your pin numbers to be supplied either by text or by email. They will not ask for those details”. 

One sophisticated scam detected by gardaí involved people who sent their banking cards and pin numbers to a scam artist who contacted them by SMS. 

“We had a scam a couple of weeks ago where very effective text messages were going to everybody – both bank customers and non-bank customers,” Det Supt Lordan said. 

“Some of the bank customers fell for the scam. That scammer text people saying their card had been compromised at a store or online. It asked them to cut up their bank card and post it to an address. The person was also asked to text their pin number. 

“It looked really professional and quite a substantial amount of people did cut up their cards and send them to the address. 

“This meant the criminal was in possession of the person’s pin number, the security number on the back of their card and the card itself which they could be put back together. 

“We were proactive with the banks involved and carried out searches of the addresses where people were asked to send their cards. It seems to have almost wiped it out,” he said. 

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