Gardaí have arrested four people and frozen bank accounts into which €700,000 has been lodged for illegal online TV streaming services.
The gang involved had been selling pirate versions of pay-per-view television. They had built up an extensive client base in Ireland and abroad, with users paying into the bank accounts monthly for the illegal pirate services.
The bank accounts that have now been put beyond use by gardaí contained €84,000 when detectives moved and effectively froze them.
However, an examination of the accounts reveals the organised crime gang, trading in the illegal media products, had collected more than €700,000 in three years; or almost €20,000 per month.
Six bank accounts and two credit union accounts were frozen under anti-money laundering legislation and nine other accounts were also part frozen.
The arrests, of two men and two women, took place in Crumlin, Co Dublin, and in Ashbourne, Co Meath. Although the suspects were detained on Tuesday morning, news of the operation has only just emerged.
Operations of this kind are unusual in Ireland, though police forces in other jurisdictions have been dealing with such criminality for many years.
Garda sources say white collar technology-based organised crime is now becoming a major issue for the force.
In recent weeks a series of raids have been conducted into invoice redirection fraud. The skimming and cloning of bank payment cards has also long been an issue.
The latest operation targeted those selling pirate internet-based TV services. It was part of a Europe-wide day of action against those involved in this particular form of organised crime.
Indeed Europol officers were on the ground in Ireland on Tuesday when the Irish raids took place, in conjunction with similar searches in Scotland and England.
Garda sources said while many people may view paying for cheaper pirated TV services as a victimless crime, it was very damaging to the legitimate economy.
They added many of those who engaged in this crime were also operating outside the tax net. The proceeds of these crimes were often diverted into more traditional forms of organised crime, such as the drugs trade.
The operation in Dublin and Meath on Tuesday was part of an inquiry being conducted by the Intellectual Property Crime Unit (IPCU) of An Garda Síochána’s serious crimes squad, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI).
Det Supt George Kyne of the NBCI said pirating services were very damaging to the legitimate companies providing the same products.
“This is an organised criminal enterprise where consumers are funding criminality and depriving genuine industry of legitimate revenue,” he said.
“Consumers are providing their payment details to unknown individuals and leaving themselves open to being the victims of fraud and/or data theft.
“The security around these devices and illegal streaming platforms exposes customers and leaves their home systems vulnerable. It is important that the public is aware of the impact of illegal streaming and its consequences.”
The four suspects were arrested under Section 4 Criminal Justice Act, 1984. They were questioned at Crumlin and Ashbourne Garda stations and have since been released. They were detained on suspicion of copyright-related offences and money laundering.