More retired people and pensioners are being targeted in sophisticated scams in which fraudsters are seeking investments of upwards of €20,000, banks have warned.
Fraudsters are targeting the over-55s with elaborate cons, claiming to be part of reputable investment firms and swindling people, often out their life savings.
The Banking and Payments Federation Ireland’s Fraud-Smart group has warned customers that con artists are replicating brochures, using the names and branding of recognised legitimate bonds and investment schemes and circulating them online.
They are also bombarding over-55s with phone calls, emails and text messages offering them investment opportunities, which are bogus.
Niamh Davenport, head of financial crime with the federation, warned consumers of a rise in serious investment scams that appear to be legitimate but are not.
“In recent months, Fraud-Smart members have noticed a rise in very serious and elaborate investment scams and the numbers are continuing to increase,” she said.
“The fraudsters hide behind websites, including product comparison websites that appear to be legitimate, and also make contact via cold calling, unsolicited emails, social media and text messages.”
The Irish Independent has alerted the Central Bank after obtaining brochures purporting to come from Goldman Sachs and Citibank and promising high returns.
The documents look legitimate and are produced to a very high standard, but are fakes.
Ms Davenport said initial indications suggested the scams were particularly targeted at those in the over-55 age bracket, with a minimum investment of €20,000.
“While the amounts may seem high, it’s important to point out that the victims are not necessarily wealthy customers, but often people on low to average incomes who have worked hard all their lives to build up a pension and are at a stage where they are looking for a last opportunity to top up their finances ahead of retirement,” she said.
Ms Davenport said that in one reported incident, an older customer was about to invest €60,000 from their pension into what appeared to be a legitimate scheme.
“Fortunately, the customer made a call directly to their bank before pushing the payment through and this meant that the fraud was identified and averted,” she said.
Fraudsters are using the details of legitimate firms to add an air of legitimacy to their fraud. This type of scam typically involves the firm cold-calling people.
Gardaí estimate that at least €30m has been stolen in investment scams in Ireland in the three-year period up to last November.
These cases are being investigated by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB).
Many of the victims are retired and unwittingly invest their savings in complicated operations controlled by international fraud gangs.
The most recent figures reveal that more than half of the victims are aged over 55; with 37pc of them female and the rest male.
“Often these people are experienced and successful in financial matters over their entire adult life and have built up a nest egg, for want of a better word, that they then invest,” a source said
Gardaí said most investment fraud involved cryptocurrency, fake investment managers, cloned websites or unregulated companies promising “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities” with fast and enormous returns.
“Victims then engage with the fraudsters online – they get sent impressive-looking charts and graphs,” the source said.
“After this, they often are in phone contact with the criminals and a trend seems to be that they end up speaking to someone who speaks with an upper-class British accent, which somehow makes the injured party feel reassured that the investment is safe – but they are being done.
“In some cases that gardaí are investigating, the fraudster has persuaded the victim to download an app on their phone or tablet, which has led to the criminal taking control of that device and all the apps on it, including the banking apps. Bank accounts have been cleared out this way.”
The crime tends to be under-reported because the victims feel embarrassed that they were duped, often out of their life savings or other significant amounts of money.
“The other issue with this type of crime is it tends to be very slow before it is reported to gardaí because the victims do not know that they have been scammed until they try to withdraw the money they have invested,” the source added.
“Sometimes it’s years before they realise they’re victims of an investment fraud.”
In 2019, the GNECB received reports of 50 incidents of investment fraud totalling €4m.
This rose to 140 reports involving the theft of €8m in 2020, and 234 reports involving the theft of more than €12m in 2021.
Precise figures for last year are not yet available, but incidents of the crime continue to increase.
Sources said investigations into this type of crime had been “seriously hampered” because the GNECB – unlike a number of other European police forces – did not have a specialist cryptocurrency investigative unit.
“A unit like this is very much needed,” the source said.
“The reality is there have been no arrests so far in relation to any of the cryptocurrency investment frauds and you are talking here about tens of millions of euro being stolen.”