Gardaí believe high-net-worth people have been encouraged into investing millions in Bitcoin by people who are now suspected of taking control of their cryptocurrency accounts, or “wallets” as the accounts are known.
The Irish Times understands that at least one bank became concerned when an older customer made moves to transfer large sums of money, believed to be in the region of €500,000 per transaction, from an account that had not been accessed for years.
While this person was visited by Garda members and briefed about the dangers of transferring the money, it is understood the person initially persisted with their plans as they believed they were making an investment.
However, they eventually accepted the Garda’s advice and another planned transfer of about €500,000 was blocked after co-operation between the person, their bank and gardaí.
Efforts are now under way to trace some of the money that had previously been transferred before the person acted on the Garda’s warning.
A property in south Dublin linked to some of the suspects in what is suspected to be a major fraud was recently searched and gardaí seized items including computers and phones, cash, jewellery and designer handbags.
The suspects, some of whom are foreign nationals and are based in south Dublin, appear to have gained the confidence of the people gardaí are treating as suspected injured parties in a major fraud.
The Garda investigation centres on several victims who gardaí suspect were groomed by suspects and then encouraged to buy very significant amounts of Bitcoin. Gardaí are investigating if access to the buyers’ Bitcoin wallets – where the digital currency is stored – was then assumed by the suspects.
Gardaí are also trying to determine, with the assistance of overseas law enforcement, if some of the money the victims believed they were investing was instead transferred out of the State.
The total sums of money for such Bitcoin purchases or funds transferred from accounts in Ireland, apparently for investment, have now reached several million, though investigations are continuing.
News of the investigation comes just weeks after gardaí warned that investment frauds had more than doubled in the State since the Covid-19 pandemic began. They had said that some victims had lost their life savings after being enticed into parting with money by people who presented themselves as investment managers.
Many such promised investments are based on the purchase of shares, bonds, cryptocurrencies and rare metals, as well as the putting of funds into overseas land and alternative energy projects.
Gardaí said that while some of the losses recently were in the region of €1,000, the average sum lost per victim was in excess of €40,000, with the sums involved in the suspected Bitcoin fraud now under investigation much higher.
Det Chief Supt Pat Lordan, of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, warned two weeks ago that investment fraud was “underreported as victims will often be embarrassed or ashamed” at having been caught out.
“One case involved a retired professional from the midlands who lost his entire pension and savings of nearly €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,” he said.