Wednesday 18 September 2019

Sneaky scams that could trick you into parting with thousands

Fraudsters are scanning the internet and social media for information that helps them to identify targets, writes Louise McBride

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Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Fraudsters are tricking Irish people into parting with thousands of euro - sometimes tens of thousands - ,while some Irish businesses have been stung for hundreds of thousands. The growing sophistication of fraudsters mean scams have become harder to spot, and therefore easier to fall for. Technology too is arming conmen with the information they need to create convincing scams.

"Fraudsters use social media and the internet to get publicly available information about you - so that they can build up a sense of trust when they contact you," said Niamh Davenport, fraud awareness and payment manager with the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland (BPFI). "Telephone scams are becoming more sophisticated. There will be call centre noises in the background. If a fraudster rings pretending to be your bank, he will be aware of the wording used by banks and will use that language in the call."

In some cases, millions of euro have been lost to scams. "Fraudsters research their client and know their target - so whatever kind of payment may seem plausible to an individual is the payment that's sought," said Patrick D'Arcy, a former garda who has worked with the Garda Fraud Squad and who is now a director of forensic and investigation services with Grant Thornton.

"If the fraudster is targeting a wealthy individual or company, he could be suggesting a payment of €10,000 or €20,000. Some payments sought can be into the millions."

Phone scams

One telephone scam that is prevalent involves a call from someone purporting to be from your bank. With these scams, you're typically told there's a fraud in your bank - and that the bank is looking for you to transfer money into a 'safe' account. You are usually advised to withdraw money from your local bank branch and then to lodge that money into the 'safe' account by arranging a money transfer in your post office.

You may be told not to tell the bank branch why you're withdrawing the money - and the fraudster may suggest that the branch is in on the fraud, according to Davenport, who heads up the BPFI's anti-fraud initiative, Of course, the 'safe' account in question is the fraudster's account - and once your money is transferred into it you're unlikely to ever see it again.

Another version of this telephone scam is where you get a call from an individual claiming to be from your bank - where you are told that your bank has noticed some unusual transactions on your account and wants to confirm your account details. Should you divulge those details, the fraudster will then use those details to attempt to access - and take money out of - your account.

There have also been recent cases of people receiving calls advising them that their computer has been hacked or has a virus. The fraudster, who purports to be from a well-known company such as Microsoft or Apple, seeks payment of anything from a few hundred euro to a few thousand to fix the non-existent problem.

Email scams

Earlier this month, three men were arrested as part of a Garda investigation into two invoice redirection frauds of over €500,000. In one of the frauds, more than €300,000 was stolen from a Spanish company and redirected to an account in Ireland.

Invoice redirection fraud, which targets people in the workplace, is one of the most common types of email fraud. With invoice redirection fraud, a business gets a fraudulent email which claims to be from an existing supplier and advises that payment for future bills or invoices should go into a new bank account. The email will look similar to the emails usually sent by that supplier -but if money is transferred into the so-called new bank account, it will be going to the fraudster rather than the supplier. "Invoice redirection fraud usually happens when the fraudster has either hacked into your email - or hacked into a supplier's email," said Davenport.

Another common fraud is CEO fraud, where you typically receive a very demanding email from your 'boss' asking you to immediately transfer money to an account so that a supplier can get paid. The account however belongs to the fraudster. To avoid falling for CEO scams, watch out for emails from work colleagues which seem unusual. "People are often rushed in work, but if you get an email like this, take a break, pause, ask yourself if the email looks right, and follow up with a phone call to confirm," said D'Arcy.

Summertime scams

One fraud which could catch you out if you are about to travel, or have just returned from holiday, is the airline giveaway scam. With these scams, you typically get an email from a well-known international flight carrier seeking feedback from you through a survey.

"The email might say that if you respond to the survey within a certain date, you'll get a €200 voucher off your next flight with the airline," said D'Arcy. "The questions on the survey will be questions that you'd expect an ordinary airline to ask you - but towards the end of the survey, you'll be asked for your bank details and bank account password to facilitate payment of the voucher."

It is the question about your bank details which should alert you to the fraud - and it is important not to divulge this information or to respond to such surveys. With scams like this, the email address used will be very similar to that of the organisation the fraudster is purporting to be from - but it will have been altered slightly.

Would-be holidaymakers should also be aware of booking scams where fraudsters set up bogus accommodation websites and post fake adverts online. Many people have lost thousands after falling for such scams - only discovering they've been conned when they go on holiday and find the accommodation they have paid for doesn't exist. Fraudsters are also hacking the email accounts of genuine travel company websites - and then getting in touch with the company's customers directly, requesting payment for the holiday by bank transfer.

To avoid falling prey to booking scams, do your research before booking a holiday or accommodation, book through reputable operators, check the company's website and email address to ensure it hasn't been subtly altered, and pay by credit card rather than bank transfer. Ring your travel company directly (using the number you already have for them) if you receive an email requesting payment by bank transfer.

Another common summer fraud is the summer job scam where conmen offer non-existent jobs to children who are off school, or to students who are off college. Personal information, such as tax details and social security numbers, are sought - so the fraudster can steal the individual's identity. An advance payment may even be sought by the 'employer' to cover the cost of training or materials for the non-existent job. Run a background check on any employer offering you or your child a job - and steer clear of the 'employer' if they're seeking an advance payment.

Direct Debit scams

Another fraud which happens regularly is where fraudsters get your bank account and personal details and then set up a direct debit using your account details, thereby getting you to unknowingly pay for something for the conman, according to D'Arcy.

In cases like this, the direct debit could be going through on your account for months before you discover it. Banks will usually only refund you for two or three months of the fraudulent direct debit payments - though some will refund you for longer, according to D'Arcy. "To prevent this type of fraud, regularly check your credit card and bank statements - so that you quickly spot any unusual transactions on your account," said D'Arcy. "Also, avoid putting any paperwork with personal details into your recycling bin - as fraudsters can get your details in this way."

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