“Be Very Careful” – Garda Warning as “Upfront Fee” scammers target people desperate for short term credit
People looking for credit online are urged by gardaí to exercise extreme caution about who they are dealing with after the recent increase in the number of people falling victim to so-called “advance fee” scams.
The scam is particularly callous in that it targets people desperately looking for money and unable to get loans through established financial institutions.
While other phone and SMS scams, such as fake messages from government agencies like the tax office, persist, the “upfront fee” scam differs in that the scammers wait for a desperate person to do an online search for credit , and then take advantage of that person.
“This is how it works when a person goes online and searches for ‘quick loan’ or ‘quick loan’ in a search engine, and they will find a number of different companies offering their services,” said Detective Commissioner Michael Cryan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB ).
“Some of these websites may be legitimate, but some of them will be scammers who have cloned or impersonated a legitimate website and even made it look Irish, although it is likely controlled from abroad.
“A desperate person enters their details and then within minutes receives a phone call to talk about the ‘loan’ that they are legitimate.
“So if you’re looking for a $ 2,000 short-term loan from them, you have to pay five or 10 percent of that upfront. They overpay the money and you will never hear from them again.
“Although the amount stolen may seem small in detail, it is often stolen by people who are already financially exhausted, and it all adds up to the fraudster.
“If you can take 50 euros from 1,000 people, that’s 50,000 euros,” said Det Supt Cryan.
He advised anyone dealing with a financial institution to check the central bank’s website to make sure it is regulated by them.
“Be very careful to double-check the exact wording of the company name as many scammers make their websites look almost identical to a company with a legitimate background, but may change words like ‘credit’ in the title to ‘loans’,” he said .
He also warned that this time of year many students or their parents would be caught in housing fraud near colleges or universities.
He advised only using recognized rental agencies or dealing with honest and trustworthy people.
“Websites can be cloned. Check the url to make sure it is a real website and refer to the privacy and refund policy sections.
“Be very careful with social media advertisements or when a person only communicates their location via Messenger or WhatsApp.
“You should push for direct answers and, if the answers are vague, back off immediately.
“Look out for unsolicited contacts or when the contact appears to be in other jurisdictions, and especially when there is a sense of urgency like a ‘one-time offer’.
“If you have decided to accept the offer, use only trustworthy money transfer systems. Never transfer money directly, deposit cash, or deposit into cryptocurrency wallets.
“Be careful if a website asks you to send money to a random PayPal address, transfer it via Western Union, pay with iTunes gift cards, or just trade in cryptocurrency.
“Most of the time, these methods are used to avoid verification and to ensure that a transaction cannot be rolled back.”
The cryptocurrency itself as a source of investment fraud has also been highlighted by the GNECB.
With the news this week that around half a million people now own cryptocurrencies in this country, gardaí fears that the lure of this invisible currency is strong and the risk of being caught by fraudsters is therefore high.
Earlier this year, the GNECB said investment fraud had increased by 120 percent during the Covid pandemic.
People looking to invest their savings or retirement packages online are lured by the promise of great returns, but are often scammed by scammers posing as legitimate financial firms.
Most investment fraud cases involve amounts in excess of € 40,000 and gardaí’s advice is always to check that the company you are dealing with is regulated by the central bank here in Ireland.
“If a deal or a return looks too good to be true, it most likely is,” Det Supt told Cryan.
“If you are looking for a loan or want to invest money, go to a trusted person and get advice before you trust a website.”