Criminals steal more than €15m worldwide in ‘sinister’ invoice redirect fraud
Specialist gardaí have established the four separate tiers of a money laundering gang involved in moving millions of euro obtained by organised frauds through bank accounts across the country.
“There are literally hundreds of people involved in this organisation throughout Ireland and investigations have established that there are four tiers to this gang with people in the different tiers unlikely to know each other,” a senior source said.
“Like many criminal organisations this gang operates on a hierarchical system almost like a pyramid,” the source added.
The gang has been the subject of a huge probe by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) over the past two years known as Operation Skein which has led to four arrests for people suspected of directing the criminal organisation.
The latest of these happened last Wednesday in the Clonsilla area of west Dublin when a 29-year-old man, who is originally from the Congo, was detained and €4,500 in cash alongside designer shoes, sunglasses and clothing were recovered.
Investigations have established that more than €40,000 of suspected crime proceeds have been lodged into bank accounts controlled by this suspect.
He is suspected of being a “manager” in the organised crime gang which places him at Tier 3 in the gang structure identified by the GNECB.
According to the model, money mules are at Tier 1 which is the lowest rung in the gang’s hierarchy.
Money mule accounts are usually held by unconnected third parties, who are approached by recruiters and asked to allow their accounts to be used for a transaction in exchange for a fee of a few hundred euro.
Often the fraudsters use students’ and young people’s bank account details by offering them a fee to allow use of their accounts for a few days.
Almost 30 money mules have been arrested nationwide this year as part of Operation Skein with many of them being teenagers and young people in their early 20s who were not previously known to gardaí.
Hundreds more money mules are expected to be arrested in the coming months and judges have been warning recently that they will start jailing young people who engage in money laundering for criminal gangs.
Meanwhile, members of the organisation who are classified as Tier 2 are described as “herders”. They are involved in the recruitment of money mules and they are also involved in cashing out money for the gang from the bank accounts the mules allow the criminals to use.
With technology and the internet, herders no longer have to rely on being physically close to mules to ensure their schemes are completed.
Investigations have established that they often recruit the mules on social media, particularly on Snapchat.
Gardaí have said students are an easy target for these “money herders” and they are often approached online, on campus, or while out socialising.
Above the herders is Tier 3 of the gang – what gardaí have identified as the “managers” of the herders and this is what the 29-year-old arrested last week is suspected of being involved in.
Senior sources said this suspected criminal had been “displaying trappings of illegitimate wealth” and had been flying on holidays around Europe with his arrest happening only days after he returned from a trip to Belgium.
He is also suspected of dealing in cryptocurrency and gardaí are analysing multiple devices linked to the suspect.
The top figures in the gang are in Tier 4.
They are described as the “directors” of the criminal organisation who only deal directly with the Tier 3 managers and whose identities would rarely, if ever, be known to those in Tiers 1 and 2.
“Obviously those in Tier 4 are making the biggest money from the enterprise, some are based in Ireland and others are not.
“This is a highly sophisticated and sinister criminal enterprise and the sums of money involved in it are huge – you are talking about many millions of euro,” a senior source explained.
“Many of the senior players in this organisation are from west Africa but are now living in Ireland.
“If the GNECB had the resources, a money mule could easily be arrested every single day across the country, there is just so many of them, but it is the people in the higher tiers that it is a bit more difficult to catch.
“But four people have already been arrested in recent months for directing the activities of the gang.”
A crucial part of the criminal grouping who are not included in the money laundering Tier system are the IT specialists who actually carry out the original frauds such as invoice-redirect scams by sending the fraudulent emails to companies across the world.
Gardaí said that Operation Skein was an investigation into international invoice redirect fraud being committed from Ireland and the laundering of the proceeds through accounts here.
“It is known now that this criminal organisation have stolen over €15m worldwide in invoice redirect frauds/BEC frauds with at least €8m to €9m laundered through the bank accounts of gang members and money mules all over Ireland,” a Garda spokesman said.