Saturday 16 December 2017

Two women forced to work as 'mules' as part of online scam jailed on condition that they leave Ireland

Judge Mary Ellen Ring
Judge Mary Ellen Ring

By Declan Brennan

Two women forced to work as "mules" as part of a European-wide scam targeting customers of the online auction site Ebay have avoided jail on condition that they leave the country.

The two Romanian women opened up false bank accounts, dubbed "mule accounts", which were then used to process the eBay frauds. Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that a wider Europol investigation has been established as a result of these arrests.

Cristina Manda (25) and Georgiana Draghici (26) opened up 16 bank accounts in branches of Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and AIB across Dublin city.

Detective Garda Neville McCormack told Kerida Naidoo BL, prosecuting, that high value items such as vans and tractors would be placed on Ebay auction website and buyers would view the items and agree to buy them.

At this stage the fraudsters would send an email to the customers urging them to avoid eBay transaction fees by paying directly into the seller's bank account.

The buyer would be given the details of the Irish bank account. When the money was lodged here Manda and Draghici would withdraw the cash and hand it over to a man standing outside the banks.

The pair opened up the bank accounts under a variety of fake names using false documents, including a fake Spanish passport and Romanian identity cards.

The buyers in Europe never received the goods. Gda McCormack said that a total of €396,159 moved through the bank accounts set up by the two accused. €207,373 was withdrawn and has not been recovered.

The balance of the funds was frozen when fraud investigators in the banks became suspicious about the accounts. 

Manda and Draghici, both of Shanliss Road, Santry, Dublin pleaded guilty to 36 charges covering 18 incidents in which they dishonestly used false documentation to open up bank accounts for the purposes of making a gain for another person at banks in Dublin city between September 13 and November 13, 2013.

Judge Mary Ellen Ring suspended prison sentences of four years on condition that the women stay out of the country for six years. The court heard that the women’s family have booked flights for them to return to Romania.

Mr Naidoo said gardai have concerns that the criminal organisation behind the scam may target the women again in their home country and would have liked more time to make arrangements for them via Interpol.

Det Gda McCormack agreed with Caroline Biggs SC, defending, that the women were important “cogs” in the operation but were at the very bottom of “the food chain” and were unaware of the bigger operation.

He said that gardai had concerns the women had been trafficked here. He agreed that Manda came here under false pretensions and thought she was going on a holiday.

Manda told gardai she was threatened that harm would come to her family and she would end up on the streets, saying: “If I tell you anything my family will be killed”.

The detective agreed both women were under duress and in genuine fear and they both co-operated fully with the investigation.

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