Welfare fraudsters steal identities from the dead
CRIMINALS are scouring graveyards to steal the identities of the dead and then use them in a social welfare scam.
The welfare cheats check out inscriptions on headstones to select the identity of somebody similar in age to themselves.
The details are then used by the fraudsters to secure a birth certificate for the dead person and obtain a fake passport that contains their own photographs.
Gardai uncovered the scam as they investigated the activities of an organised crime gang. But they have not yet established the full extent of the fraud.
Several passports have been recovered by a large team of officers based in the south-east of the country. Officers disclosed last night that the fraudsters were claiming social welfare allowances legitimately under their own names in one county and then using the fake passports to collect dole payments elsewhere in the country.
"This is a very well-organised scam," one investigator told the Irish Independent last night.
"Sometimes they use the identities of people they know that have died in the recent past but most of the identities are taken from headstones, as a search of a cemetery gives them greater opportunities to find one that will match what they want.
"This has only come to light very recently as we dig deeper into the activities of the gang under investigation," he added.
A similar scam using the identities of the dead was used by the Provisional IRA about two decades ago when they were sending teams of terrorists overseas to carry out operations in Britain and in mainland Europe.
The gang involved in the latest fraud is based mainly in the south-eastern region and evidence of the identity theft was found during a series of garda swoops on houses in counties Waterford, Tipperary, Cork, and Dublin, on Monday.
A quantity of forged social welfare forms and false passports were seized and a large amount of documentation taken away by gardai is currently being forensically examined to help determine the size of the dole scam.
Gardai believe the gang is responsible for at least 45 crimes in the region, including suspected involvement in the murder of 48-year-old horse trader, Willie Stokes, last December. Mr Stokes, who was described by gardai as a soft target and an innocent man, was brutally stabbed in front of his 12-year-old son in the centre of Tipperary town.
He was believed to have been singled out by one side involved in a long-running feud between two extended families based in county Waterford.
Gardai said last night that they were now making substantial progress with their inquiries into his murder.
Garda had 14 suspected members of the gang in custody yesterday who were being questioned about a range of crimes committed over the past couple of years.
The suspects were all arrested in the wake of the searches, carried out by a team of 120 officers, and range in age from 16 to 45 years. They were arrested under section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act and gardai have already secured court permission to extend the period of detention for a large number of them.
Gardai also recovered a rifle, ammunition, a machine for reloading ammunition, and an air gun, as well as €10,000 of cocaine and cannabis, homemade weapons including slash-hooks and batons and documentation, laptops and home computers.
Among the suspected stolen goods recovered were satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones and equestrian and agricultural goods taken in burglaries in various parts of the country.
Detectives are currently cross-referencing the stolen goods with their files on the reported crimes.