False PUP claims made under 73 identities obtained via fake jury emails

Gardaí identify suspects in €165,000 scam and have arrested one man in Co Cork

A large volume of people during the summer received emails purporting to be from the Irish Court Service effectively calling them to perform jury duty. Photograph: iStock

A large volume of people during the summer received emails purporting to be from the Irish Court Service effectively calling them to perform jury duty. Photograph: iStock

 

Gardaí have uncovered a major fraud targeting the pandemic unemployment payment being claimed under the names of 73 innocent people who gave fraudsters their personal details as they thought they were volunteering for jury duty.

The Irish Times has learned a large volume of people during the summer received emails purporting to be from the Irish Court Service effectively calling them to perform jury duty.

The recipients of the emails were asked to complete a document attached to the email and were asked to include their personal details including full name, address and PPS numbers. However, the emails were from a fraud gang passing itself as the Irish Court Service in the emails.

When the personal details were returned by 73 unsuspecting victims who believed they were complying with a request to serve on a jury, their details were used to claim the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) of up to €350 per week.

The payments, all of which were approved by the Department of Social Protection, were paid into various accounts – including An Post accounts and even credit card accounts – that had been opened by the fraudsters under fake names and using false passports and other forms of identification.

The Garda investigation team handling the case, which is being led by Det Supt Michael Cryan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB), alerted the Department of Social Protection to the fraud. Detectives have also established that some €165,000 was stolen before the fraud was uncovered.

The criminal investigation has also discovered that all of the emails sent to the 73 people whose identities were used to claim the PUP came from the same email address. All of the applications made for the PUP payments also came from the same address, yet the fraud was not spotted by the Department of Social protection. Even after gardaí alerted the department to the fraud, some of the payments continued and even some arrears were paid.

While some of the stolen money was still in the deposit accounts and in the payment card accounts the PUP payments were made to, most of the €165,000 was already spent or transferred to other accounts and only a very small portion of it has been frozen by the Garda.

Gardaí investigating the fraud have identified a number of suspects and a man was arrested in Co Cork on Tuesday morning. He was still being held in the afternoon.

The suspect was being held for questioning in Midleton Garda station and gardai believe he is associated with a number of other fraudsters who acted together in stealing the money. Gardaí have trawled through documents and electronic records associated with the PUP payments being claimed and also with the accounts into which the payments were made and photographs of a number of people were used in the identifications used to facilitate the fraud.