The Blacknight Podcast is marking Safer Internet Day this week, with a special episode about scams and internet crime. Our guest is Detective Inspector Mel Smyth from the Garda Economic Crime Bureau in Harcourt Square, Dublin.
Click on the player below to play the podcast, or download it here: 18:54; 11MB; MP3.
The Garda Economic Crime Bureau investigates serious economic crime, bribery and corruption. As business and finance are increasingly reliant on technology, financial crime is often cyber-enabled crime.
Inspector Smyth explains advance-fee fraud, where criminals pose as a legitimate business, often as moneylenders, to lure people who are vulnerable and desperate. People who contact these bogus businesses are quickly told that they have been approved for a loan but that that they will have to pay some fees first, and maybe the first installment up-front, for example. Then the ‘lending company’ goes dark. “It’s a scam”, he explains. “You never get your loan”.
He advises people who are in financial trouble to contact the Money Advice and Budgetting Service (MABS), and not to engage with online lenders without checking them out on the Central Bank website, which operates a register of authorised firms, and also publishes details on unauthorised operators that have been reported to it.
Typically these gangs are outside the jurisdiction.
“It makes it very difficult to prosecute them. While we will follow that money and we will follow the investigation and, if it’s in Europe we would have some chance of getting down to the suspect at the end of the day. But I’m also very interested in the prevention and the disruption aspect of this and, if people are aware of this possibility that their bank accounts could be emptied if they click on links on an email, text or SMS that would bring them to where they are giving away their bank account, then less Irish citizens will become victims of this fraud.”
The Gardaí are well aware of the increase in phishing scams, he says, and he warns people to be suspicious of unsolicited texts or emails.
“The warning flag there is an unsolicited text, email, SMS, telling you you’ve won something or, sometimes, saying to you that you owe the Revenue money. ‘Just give us your bank account and we’ll withdraw the money’. There’ll be different ways and there’s always different stories that they come up with; they might be from some online retail company or whatever – often you’ve won a prize, or something like that. But, in the end of the day, the commonality is they will always ask you to click on a link, enter your bank account, enter your password or your PIN – it could be your credit card – enter all those details and, from that point on, they’ve control of your bank account or your credit card.”
What should people do?
“You just have to stop and think. These fraudsters will always have very plausible stories. The nature of fraudsters is thats’ the way they work. they’re very plausible; they’re very confident; they will have a well-rehearsed story, so when you receive unsolicited calls, they will be very convincing, and my advice is stop and think, and think of the red warning flags that I’ve just mentioned: an unsolicited email that brings you into a link, that brings you into revealing personal data. That’s a huge red flag, and once that red flag starts to wave in front of you, you stop, and you hang up, and you don’t talk to that person.”
The scammers contrive to create a sense of urgency in the victim.
“There will be always a pressure situation. One example was: they said they were from your bank; your bank was after being compromised; they needed to move the money from your account to another account where it would be safe, and it’s all hush; you’d better act quickly – you’d better do it now. And the person panics. And they give them their details; they allow them to move the money and the money’s gone out of the country. It’s hassle, hassle, hassle. You must do it now. Otherwise you’ll lose your money, otherwise you won’t get your prize, otherwise you won’t get your loan. It’s always pressure, and that pressure is done by the fraudster to try and stop people from thinking. My advice is: stop and think.”
‘Romance fraud’ is another cause of concern for the Gardaí. Criminals pose as a potential romantic partner, on dating sites or social media platforms. They establish trust with their victims and either trick them into giving them money, or exchanging intimate photographs, which then leads to blackmail and the threat to send compromising photos to the victims’ friends and family. Over €1 million was lost due to romance fraud in Ireland in in 2019. Some instances of this crime have had tragic consequences.
This week Blacknight issued a press release for Safer Internet Day, warning that there has been an increase in online fraud corresponding with the increase in online activity. We’ve observed a 244% rise, year-on-year, in phishing attacks using our company name.
We also created a guide to online safety, called Seven Simple Steps to Online Security.