PROFESSIONAL crime gangs are targeting people using dating sites in Ireland for investment fraud, the Irish Sun can reveal.
And a special investigation by us into online scams today outlines how a staggering €7.8m has been stolen in the first seven months of 2021.
This is compared to the €4.2m stolen in 2020 and €2.2m in 2019.
The scam works by the schemers engaging with people on dating sites, building up relationships and encouraging them to invest in crypto currency projects.
Many victims are also targeted by responding to ‘pop-up ads’ on social media platforms the criminals have created.
The dating sites are just one of a number of ways the fraudsters target innocent people – with the main method being cloned investment sites.
And we can also reveal how in the first ten months of 2021, the total sum stolen in all frauds is a staggering €55m – compared to €45m for the same period in 2021.
And they have also used fake quotes from celebrities and business people pretending to endorse the investment.
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The average age of those targeted is 52 – with 40 per cent of victims female and 60 per cent male.
Those behind the investment fraud scams – which has increased by 55 per cent this year – are major targets for the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau.
In an interview with the Irish Sun, Det Supt Michael Cryan told how “ordinary people” all over Ireland had been targeted by the scammers.
The senior officer said: “Investment fraud is where criminals pose as investment managers, promise quick and high rates of return and simply steal your money.
“Some victims are persuaded to download links which allows the fraudster to take control of their computer and basically empty their account.
“These are ordinary people, from all over the country, who have lost their pensions, gratuities and nest eggs etc and this has had a devastating effect on them.
“The lure of investing in crypto currencies and the lure of a quick return is used to entice and ensnare the victim. Victims are in contact with people via the dating sites and this is where they are advised to invest.
“The Central Bank of Ireland advises that investing in crypto currency is unsuitable for most consumers, particularly those pursuing long term goals like saving for retirement. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”
Det Supt Cryan added: “Virtual currencies are not regulated so if something does go wrong, you will not not be able to claim compensation.
IMPORTANCE OF RESEARCH
“It’s important not to take investment advice from someone you were put in contact with by a dating site, an app or social media.
“It’s also important to remember that crypto currency is high risk and most will fail.
“We’re just encouraging people to do their research before committing to any investment and to be aware that this type of crime is taking place in Ireland.”
Although men and women are being targeted on dating sites, fraudsters are also preying on people by engaging in ‘romance fraud’.
This also works by the scammer declaring love for their victim before asking them to send cash for a sick relative or a university course.
In recent times, there has been almost 100 victims of the scam in Ireland.
Other frauds investigated include ‘account takeover’ which involves criminals taking over someone’s bank account with 4,000 accounts targeted here.
And as well as investment fraud, another major crime taking place in Ireland during the Covid 19 pandemic was ‘Smishing’.
One bank here lost a staggering €8m to the crime – with GNECB investigators managing to recover €4m.
Smishing works by texts or emails claiming to be from banks, delivery companies or the service industry.
They claim there is unusual activity on their victim’s account and to click a link which has been sent.
But once someone clicks on the account and inputs their pin – the criminals have full access to it.
The thieves then transfer money to accounts used by their ‘money mules’.
At present, there are believed to be around 4,000 money mules working for gangs in Ireland.
But the GNECB have scored major successes against the fraudsters under Operation Skein and Operation Omena.
Last year, conman Giuseppe Diviccaro, 45, was caged for five years, with 18 months suspended after he opened seven bank accounts here and laundered €200,019 between June 21, 2018 and July 17, 2020.
Since the start of the crackdown, gardai established how €20m had been laundered through accounts in Ireland, with detectives working closely with Interpol and the US authorities.
Gardai have also identified 400 suspects, made over 100 arrests and sent files to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Those arrested included money mules and those at the “top tier” of the gangs.
And successes under Operation Omena led the fraudsters to move their operations from Ireland to Holland.
Those scammers caged here included Dragos Cirstea, 35 and his lover Maria Gabriela, 23.
One of Europe’s most prolific thieves – Ionut Grigorescu – was also caught by the Gardai under Operation Omena.
For further information on a wide range of online fraud visit the website www.fraudSMART.ie