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Hundreds of people affected by a dozen websites offering 'fast and easy' loans

Gardaí estimate that between 800 to 1,000 people have been affected by “advance fee fraud” in recent months.

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Updated Apr 29th 2019, 11:10 AM

GARDAÍ ARE WARNING the public to be vigilant after unregulated websites offering “quick” loans to people have taken upfront payments without issuing the loan.

In recent months, Gardaí estimate that between 800 to 1,000 people have been affected by “advance fee fraud”, carried out by around 11 or 12 websites identified so far.

Detective Inspector Mel Smyth of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) said that they have been making efforts to close these websites down, but the host websites are often in other jurisdictions.

We’re trying to cut off the oxygen to the websites by telling people to be vigilant, and by telling people who you know are in financial difficulty that they are not authorised.

Smyth said that victims of this type of fraud could pay upfront fees of between €100 to €500, or even more depending on how big the loan they request is. 

These websites target vulnerable people by offering to process applications quickly. They claim that loans are available without the need for a good credit rating; without the need to provide collateral for the loan; or without having to provide any documentation apart from basic personal details.

Smyth told TheJournal.ie: “These websites target people who are desperate for money, who have a bad credit rating, or they might need to pay gambling debts, drug debt – it could be anything.”

Some of these websites also claim to be regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland when this is not the case. If they aren’t regulated by the Central Bank, don’t apply for a loan from them, Smyth advised.

How the scams work

A person will apply for the loan, and receive a call or communication within a very short time, often minutes, informing them that their loan application has been approved and providing details of the amount of the loan and the monthly repayment. 

“The call will appear to be from an Irish number, but it will be from abroad, and the website will claim to be from Ireland but will be based outside this jurisdiction,” Smyth said, adding that Gardaí are working with Interpol to try to identify the people abroad.

The victim will then be asked to send an amount of money to the ‘lender’ in advance of the loan amount being issued, with different reasons given for this advance fee (eg, an up-front fee, or to show that the victim has the ability to meet the loan repayments).

 No loan is ever issued to the victim and the advance fee is lost.

Detective Inspector Smyth says that the money will usually go through an Irish account first, and maybe through a second Irish account and then sent to a third bank account.

The people who own these accounts could be charged with money laundering, he said.

He advised that people in financial difficulties should contact the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs).

Advice

In order to reduce the number of people affected by these scams, Gardaí are advising people to be aware of the following warning signs:

  • The website will claim to offer a fast and easy way to apply for a loan on line
  • The loan will be approved very quickly and without checks on identity, the ability to pay or credit rating
  • No hard copy/paper documentation will be required by the lender
  • The lender will ask for a payment of some kind in advance of the loan being given to the applicant
  • The lender will not be authorised by the Central Bank of Ireland although it may claim that it is.

There may also be instances where a firm “clones” the details of an authorised entity by taking the details of an authorised entity and claiming to either be that entity or an associated entity.

Further information in respect of unauthorised firms that have already come to the attention of the Central Bank is available on the Central Bank’s website, but please be warned that there may be scams out there that have not yet come to the attention of the Central Bank.

The Gardaí are advising that you should never apply for a loan from an entity that is not authorised by the Central Bank; and always check the official Central Bank website to see if the firm is authorised by the Central Bank.

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