Conmen sting HSE for €7,000 in internet scam
THE HSE made a series of payments totalling €7,000 to conmen over the course of three years after an official was duped by an internet scam, the Irish Independent has learned.
The fraud was only uncovered by an internal audit after a manager queried an unsolicited invoice submitted by a bogus company, supposedly based in Spain.
The company emailed the HSE inviting it to advertise the addresses and phone numbers of services in a "free" European directory.
An official based in the west of Ireland signed up to the directory, giving details for University College Hospital Galway, Portiuncula hospital, and St Brigid's psychiatric hospital in Ballinasloe, Co Galway.
But buried in the small print was a clause which committed the HSE to making payments to the company over several years.
A recent HSE audit discovered that the guide which had been signed up for did not exist -- despite claims by the bogus company that it provided the service on the internet and by CD-ROM.
It also established that a series of payments, totalling €7,000, had been made to the conmen between 2005 and 2008.
The discovery of the fraud prompted a warning to HSE managers to tighten up on financial procedures.
A HSE spokesman said: "An instruction was issued to all managers to cease certifying invoice for payments for these registrations and listings."
The same type of scam has ensnared thousands of unwitting victims across Europe in recent years.
Fianna Fail MEP Liam Aylward, who recently raised the issue in the European Parliament, said the European Commission and member states were not doing enough to help businesses who had been caught up in this fraud.
"These scams have hit business in Ireland and masquerade as legitimate directories and then charge unsuspecting businesses for a service they did not ask for," he said.
He said that while there was an EU directive in place since 2006 about misleading advertising, tougher legislation was needed.