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scam alert Gardai issue warning as fraudsters take advantage of increase in online shopping

As part of Fraud Awareness Week gardai have said online transaction frauds were up 50pc in 2020 compared to 2019.

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File photo of a woman using a laptop.

File photo of a woman using a laptop.

File photo of a woman using a laptop.

More than 260,000 credit and debit cards frauds, totalling €22 million in value, hit Irish people last year, leading gardai to warn people about the dangers of online shopping.

As part of Fraud Awareness Week gardai have said online transaction frauds were up 50pc in 2020 compared to 2019.

And with a large increase in online shopping due to Covid restrictions the amount of money being spent online is being taken advantage of by fraudsters who are constantly assessing what is in demand and what they can make money on most quickly.

Detective Inspector Mel Smyth of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) said there are three main types of victims in online fraud - a person who buys something and does not receive it, a person who sells something but gets no payment, and a financial institution when compromised cards or bank accounts are used to make online purchases.

“The biggest risk is in a person-to-person situation where you contact someone through social media or an online selling site and all you have is a phone number and a voice at the end of the phone,” he said.

“There is always a risk there in both buying and selling. And what looks like an Irish phone number might not actually be Irish at all but could be managed from abroad and made to look Irish.”

“If you see something going cheap you have to ask why. Is it too good to be true? Assess the risk, and ask yourself how you would get your money back if the transaction went wrong,” he added.

“If a complete stranger came to your door tonight and offered you something on the basis that you give him €2,000 now and he would bring it to you tomorrow I don’t think there are many that would give him the money. Yet we seem to have a trust in online shopping and do exactly that,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lorden.

“We are seeing an enormous amount of money being lost every day, ranging from €200 upwards. You might ask why fraudsters would go for small sums of money, but it all adds up over time. We have arrested people and seen their phones and their financial transactions and the volume of money going through their accounts. They are making an enormous amount of money through small value frauds.”

“Fraudsters will create a sense of urgency, or make you feel like you have to act now to avail of a deal. They know what’s in demand at any particular time too, like game consoles coming up to Christmas, and it will be mowers and campervans and caravans now. Mobile phones are always easy money for scammers because they are always in demand.”

“You might think what you are paying is just a deposit and not much of a risk, but that’s all these fraudsters want, the so-called deposit is enough if they can keep repeating the scam,” he added.

Gardai also warned people to check addresses and other information supplied with online or social media adverts.

“We had someone who bought machinery through the UK from what they believed was a plant hire company, but if they had only googled the address they would see it was a block of apartments,” said Det Chief Supt Lorden.

“Make sure there is an ‘https’ at the beginning of the web address and a padlock symbol displayed beside the URL before the purchase is made. This indicates a secure connection,” said Det Insp Smyth.

“Where a selling platform offers an official, safe way of paying, use this rather than sending money directly to a third party – otherwise use an online payment option such as PayPal, which helps to protect you.”

“And don’t undertake any transactions or banking on a public wifi signal which can lead to fraudsters accessing your banking details,” he added.

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