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Gardaí warn of significant increase in con-artists exploiting coronavirus fears

incidents have been reported in areas around the country.

Image: Shutterstock/lOvE lOvE

GARDAÍ AROUND THE country are urging people to beware of a significant increase in the number of con-artists attempting to use the coronavirus crisis to scam money from unsuspecting members of the public. 

Criminals around the world have been creating novel ways of defrauding the public as misinformation about the disease becomes rife on social media.

Fraudsters have been using this panic to induce people to part with their cash.

There have been reports of people disguising themselves as charity workers and going door-to-door offering to carry out Covid-19 tests on members of the public for cash. 

These incidents have been reported in areas around the country. TheJournal.ie has learned of  investigations into such scams in areas including Waterford, Kilkenny and across pockets of the border region. 

Similar scams have also been reported north of the border. 

Members of the Red Cross in Waterford released a statement last week saying that all their volunteers have identification and that anyone who is concerned about the veracity of  members they encounter should ask for the ID. 

A spokesperson said: “It has come to our attention that there are a group of individuals pretending to be us going from door to door targeting the elderly and offering test swabs for the coronavirus charging a whopping €100.

“Please note that we do NOT offer this service. Please report this to An Garda Siochana as they are scamming the vulnerable.

“Our members when out on duty are required to wear full uniform and each member also has to carry their unique membership ID card.”

Some gardaí around the country are reporting a dramatic fall-off of everyday crimes like burglaries and  public order incidents due to the number of people essentially confined to their homes for large portions of the day. 

This has allowed officers to carry out more frequent checkpoints and other duties relating to Covid-19 and to follow up on reported coronavirus scams. 

Criminals around the world have been taking advantage of the pandemic in recent weeks. 

Interpol, the international police organisation, has warned people to beware of seemingly legitimate looking websites which are offering to sell face masks, surgical gloves, masks and other personal protective equipment. 

It said fake shops, websites, social media accounts and email addresses claiming to sell surgical masks and other medical equipment in short supply have sprung up online.

Interpol’s secretary-general Jürgen Stock said:

“Criminals are exploiting the fear and uncertainty created by Covid-19 to prey on innocent citizens who are only looking to protect their health and that of their loved ones.

“Anyone who is thinking of buying medical supplies online should take a moment and verify that you are in fact dealing with a legitimate, reputable company, otherwise your money could be lost to unscrupulous criminals.”

Other scams linked to the virus include:

  • Telephone fraud – criminals call victims pretending to be clinic or hospital officials, who claim that a relative of the victim has fallen sick with the virus and request payments for medical treatment
  • Phishing – emails claiming to be from national or global health authorities, with the aim of tricking victims to provide personal credentials or payment details, or to open an attachment containing malware

FraudSMART, the fraud awareness initiative led by Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) has also warned the public to be on “high alert” for Covid-19 scams. 

Outlining the increased risks involved and the type of scams which are likely to emerge, BPFI’s CEO Brian Hayes said:

“In the coming weeks and months we believe that there will be significant attempts at fraudulent activity around Covid-19 related scams with the potential for substantial losses as fraudsters seek to capitalise on the heightened anxieties of the public during the current crisis. 

“With a range of financial and other Covid-19 supports now available for impacted consumers and business we anticipate that fraudsters will target victims via email, text, phone and social media by posing as genuine organisations including government, banks and health care providers in an attempt to get victims to disclose personal or financial information.

We have already had warnings in relation to the new Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment with fraudsters posing as officials asking for financial details to process this payment. Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of impersonation fraud we are expecting to see an increase in similar to what is happening in other jurisdictions including the UK.

Bank of Ireland has also asked its customers to remain vigilant for online fraud, with increased potential for fraudsters to exploit the current period of uncertainty driven by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The bank said it is urging customers to be wary of newly created fake websites, and not to respond to bogus text messages seeking their personal details. Customers should also watch out for the following scams currently in circulation:

  • Fraudulent WhatsApp messages offering “banking advice”
  • Suspicious social media posts linking back to fake websites
  • Requests to dial high costs phone lines operating as advice centres
  • Calls from fake medical or charitable organisations asking for urgent money transfers
  • Suspicious emails or texts asking for personal details or linking to fake websites

Other warnings

Earlier this month, gardaí appealed to the public to be wary of two particular types of fraud.

A statement earlier this month from the gardaí read: “An Garda Siochana would like to make the public aware of the possibility for fraudsters exploiting the spread of Covid-19 Coronavirus to carry out scams either online or in person.

 ”A phishing scam involves an unsolicited email, text, WhatsApp or phonecall from someone claiming to be from a legitimate organisation, and is a ruse for the individual to gain access to personal information. 

“Social engineering scams exploit the charitable nature of people via social media or in person by asking for donations to so-called charitable organisations.”

Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of a scam is urged to contact their local garda station. 

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