Five held in €1.5m welfare fraud bust
Published 15/07/2011 | 05:00
A MASSIVE fraud involving bogus social welfare claims has been smashed after netting an estimated €1.5m for the organisers.
Investigators believe the fraudsters collected the cash in bogus social welfare claims over the past three to four years.
The racket is alleged to have been masterminded by a gang with associates here and in the UK.
The breakthrough came after a joint investigation by the Garda national fraud bureau and staff from the Department of Social Protection, which got under way at the start of the year.
And social protection staff are understood to have cut off payments to more than a dozen claimants as a result of the investigation.
Five suspects, including two women, were arrested in a series of raids by gardai yesterday morning in Swords, Balbriggan, Clondalkin, Ronanstown, Blanchardstown -- all in north and west Dublin -- and Newbridge, Co Kildare.
During the searches detectives seized a large amount of documentation and this will now be studied.
The fraudsters are alleged to have been swapping their own identities and those of their partners and children while collecting the weekly payments.
One man is suspected of collecting €350 a week legitimately while also making bogus claims using three other identities.
Gardai said last night the gang were not involved in other forms of crime but confined their activities to false welfare claims.
"They didn't need to do anything else, they were making enough out of this racket to live comfortably", one officer said.
Gardai said multiple claims were being made from social welfare here and in the UK. Officials from the serious organised fraud section within the UK department of work and pensions have also been closely involved in the cross-channel inquiries and further searches were carried out there.
Investigators believe that most of the claims frauds began in 2008 although some others are thought to have originated in 2005. The gang focused mainly on unemployment benefit, back to work allowances and child support payments.
One of the male suspects is in his late teens while the two others are in their 20s and 30s. The women are aged in their 20s and 40s.
They were questioned at Clondalkin, Malahide, Blanchardstown and Swords garda stations after being detained under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act.
The joint inquiry has not yet been completed and it is expected that further arrests will be made.
The Department of Social Protection is also tightening up procedures to prevent similar scams taking place and investigators are considering whether claimants should be obliged to show some proof of identity when collecting their benefits.