Gardaí have detected a 120 per cent increase in investment fraud scams since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
These scams are becoming more prevalent due to the increased numbers of people online and the increasingly sophisticated methods employed by criminals, said the Garda as it launched its Fraud Awareness Week.
The amounts lost by people in the last year start at €1,000. The majority of victims have lost more than €40,000, often their entire life savings or pension lump sum.
Chief Supt Pat Lordan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau said victims are often embarrassed or ashamed at having fallen for an investment scam.
He cited one case of a retired professional from the midlands who lost his entire pension and personal savings of almost €250,000.
“Our advice is simple, don’t respond to unsolicited approaches, be wary of wild claims, and never ever let anyone have remote access to your computer.”
Gardaí said investment scams involve a “huge element of aggressive, hard selling” with fraudsters using “professional charts and graphs . . . to show how much money the victim will make”.
Criminals pose as investment managers and promise quick and high rates of return. Once someone makes an “investment”, their money is simply stolen.
Common fraudulent investment schemes involve rare metals, overseas property and alternative energy schemes such as carbon credits and forestry, said the Garda.
They often feature fake endorsements by reputable business people or celebrities. Promises of “once in a lifetime opportunities” are also common
Shares, bonds and cryptocurrencies are also commonly used as vehicles for investment frauds. The Garda said most recent frauds involved Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency in some way.
“Many people online are responding to pop-up adds, following advice received via social media or they seek out investment advice on the internet and follow links to company sites which appear to be professional,” it said.
Fraudulent websites are often hosted well beyond the reach of the European Union or involve companies registered in unregulated jurisdictions.
As well as stealing victims’ initial investment, fraudster often use the information they receive to steal further funds for their accounts.
“Once the victim is duped into a fraudulent investment, there are many means by which the criminal can steal funds from the victims account – including via remote access to the victim’s computer, receipt of personal information, bank accounts and photographic identification.”
The Garda warned: “If it is too good to be true, it probably is.”