There has been a significant increase in online scams targeting Irish consumers in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, especially in the past year. This surge in online scams has put Irish consumers at extremely high risk as online criminals continue to target a wide range of Irish social groups. The situation has become so serious that police forces on both sides of the Irish border have issued warnings and alerts to the public to be extra vigilant in detecting an online scam before it occurs.
The Newry Times reported a couple of days ago that the Northern Ireland Police Service had issued warnings to the public to be on the lookout for targeted online scams, quoting Chief Superintendent Simon Walls as stating that “The threat of fraud, both online and offline, against the public is a constant focus for us and yesterday saw several incidents reported”. These incidents included 32 online cases reported to the Northern Ireland Police Service in just one day (October 22, 2020).
Of these 32 cases, one victim lost over £5,000 by being duped by an online fraudster who posed as a bank representative, another victim was hoodwinked for over £20,000 on an online dating scam site and yet another poor soul lost over £45,000 to a company purporting to be a highspeed broadband provider. Brian De Clerk, European Sales Director, for Scam Help, concurred by stating that “In the last 2 weeks we have seen a major spike in online fraud cases in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland especially in cases involving 10,000 EUR or less”. De Klerk also pointed out that the “Irish isles, with its porous borders and a combined population of just over 8 million, has hundreds of thousands of people who, due to the COVID pandemic, are newcomers to working at home and are therefore at high risk for online fraud”.
This past September (2020) saw the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau arrest three men for running a fraudulent dating site that would dupe victims into false relationships with online Avatars and would then move the online communications to different forums. The unwitting victims would then send money to their supposed online partners for fraudulent reasons including airline tickets and money to support sick relatives. It is, according to an article published by the Irish Times on September 15, 2020, “the first time a romance fraud operation has been uncovered within Ireland”. Innocent victims would send money transfers and payments via Western Union, credit card, and bank transfers to a variety of destinations in Turkey, Dubai, and even Vietnam.
While it’s conventional wisdom to think that only elderly people are at higher risk for online dating scams and financial scams (such as online investments fraud and trading scams), the recent trend, according to Brian De Klerk, has “proved that all age brackets are at high risk for on-line romance scams not just the elderly”. De Klerk further added that “the Irish markets are currently swamped with online fraud including a major uptick not only in dating sites but also in the purchasing of fraudulent online streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Apple TV.”
This onslaught of on-line scams in Ireland is also underscored by the fact that in July last year, the Bank of Ireland was fined by Ireland’s Central bank, for 1.7 Million EUR for security and regulatory oversights and negligence in the case involving a bank customer who, in 2014, suffered a cyber-fraud incident and lost over 100,000 EUR. With these factors in mind consumers in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland should be extra diligent when making any online purchases and never forget the Latin ‘Caveat Emptor’ which simply means ‘Let the buyer beware’!