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Monday, December 4, 2023

Waterford gardaí investigating scams seize €1.12m in ‘first major seizure of cryptocurrency’

Nine men have been arrested as part of a Garda investigation into a sophisticated money-laundering and ‘smishing’ scam with links to international criminal organisations.

Officers attached to the Waterford Division Crime Hub say they have been conducting “a complex criminal investigation” focusing on organised transnational criminal activity involving the sending of a large amount of smishing texts, theft, deception and money-laundering, both in Ireland and abroad. 

The scam involved the sending of phony SMS and WhatsApp messages purportedly from postal services, delivery companies, and a number of financial institutions. 

Those behind the fraud are understood to be of varying nationalities and multi-linguistic, allowing them to deceive people in several different countries.

Over the course of their investigation, gardaí have seized an estimated €1.12m in cryptocurrency, frozen funds worth €30,000, seized two vehicles — a Volkswagen Golf and a Mercedes — and seized a property in Dubai. 

Investigating gardaí also said the operation has identified links to organised criminal groups operating across Europe, the UK, Dubai and South Africa.

Two of the arrested men are currently before the courts charged with various alleged offences contrary to Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010, Part 7 of Criminal Justice Act 2006, and the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act, 2001.

A spokesperson said that the seizure of cryptocurrency in October and November 2023 as part of the investigation, is the first major seizure of cryptocurrency in the area of Organised Cyber Enabled frauds by gardaí.

“Europol and Garda Liaisons in Irish embassies are facilitating the investigation team in liaison with other Police Forces to progress this investigation internationally,” the spokesperson said. 

‘Smishing’ and account takeover fraud

In ‘smishing’ scams, fraudsters use bogus texts or WhatsApp messages to deceive their target into opening a hyperlink in order to “verify” or “reactivate” one of their online accounts, usually their online banking, Revenue, or a streaming service account. In other instances, scammers send messages are made to look like notifications from delivery companies.

The fraudsters are then able to copy their target’s personal and financial details and gain access to their bank account and/or their credit and debit cards. 

Account takeover fraud can also be carried out via bogus calls (‘vishing’) or scam emails (‘phishing’). In each instance, scammers will pose as a bank, service provider, delivery company or a government agency and attempt to trick their target into supplying their personal or financial information. 

In ‘vishing’ scams, the fraudsters will usually call a person and inform them that they are “under investigation” for some sort for tax fraud or that there is an issue with their bank account. 

They then tell the target that the matter can be resolved by paying a bill or a fine immediately. They will also request the target’s bank account details, credit card details, PPS number, or encourage them to download software (such as ‘AnyDesk’) so they can take over their computer or device.

Gardaí have issued the following advice on how best to avoid falling victim to such scams:

  • Be wary of texts (even those in a messaging thread of previous genuine texts from banks), especially if you are expecting a delivery
  • Be wary of cold calls—always ask the caller their name and for their phone number. If you have any concerns just hang up and ring your bank/service provider using the number on your bill/statement—just because it looks like an Irish number doesn’t mean that it is
  • Don’t download any apps that allow someone control of your device
  • Never ever click on hyperlinks in texts or emails
  • Never ever give away your personal data (bank details, PIN numbers, passwords, one time codes, PPS number, Eircodes, etc)
  • Do not transfer any money
  • Get advice from a trusted person before taking any action
  • If you have been a victim, change your passwords/pin codes immediately, report it to your bank ASAP and ask them to do a recall, then report it to gardaí.

Any member of the public who believes they are the victim of fraud, or who thinks their account has been compromised, should contact any Garda station and their bank or financial institution.

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