Man suspected of using 24 colleagues’ details to claim PUP
Suspect fraudulently established eligibility to be paid up to €47,000 since March
Frauds to the value of €1 million have already been detected but Garda sources said that figure was likely to grow much higher. Photograph: Collins Courts
Gardaí are investigating a man suspected of using his colleagues’ personal details, including PPS numbers, to claim the pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) in their names up to a total value of €8,000 per week.
Garda sources said there was now growing concern in the force that the PUP application system had been easy to abuse by some fraudsters, with a number of investigations underway into individual suspects and those working as part of organised crime networks.
In some cases the same email address and/or bank account numbers were used by fraudsters on large numbers of claims for the PUP payment but the Department of Social Protection’s online system had created not any alert about the unusual pattern.
At other times when gardaí pointed out payments being made under particular identities were highly suspect the payments continued. And in some of those cases arrears were also paid.
Garda sources said once fraudsters were able to obtain the names, addresses, PPS numbers and other details of people they were able to use them to make claims online and had proven successful.
Frauds to the value of €1 million have already been detected but Garda sources said that figure was likely to grow much higher. However, they stressed the vast majority of people in receipt of the payment were entitled to it.
In the latest case to come to light, the man under investigation made applications for the PUP payment in the names of 24 of his former colleagues, none of whom were involved in the scam.
Half of the 24 people, who are all foreign nationals, have been traced by gardaí and were described as “ordinary people who had come to Ireland to work”. They were unaware their details were being used to defraud the State until contacted by gardaí seconded to the Department of Social Protection.
The man at the centre of the investigation, who lives in Dublin and is in his 30s, had opened seven bank accounts, apparently for the specific purposed of receiving the PUP payments.
Criminal charges were expected in the case, gardaí said.
The scam began in March and was detected in August, by which time some €47,000 had been paid into seven bank accounts opened by the same man. While payments were not paid to him under all 24 identities every week for the full period of the scam, he had set himself up on the system to be paid up to €8,500 per week.
All aspects of the crime were conducted online, including applying for the payments and opening the bank accounts required to receive the payments.
The Irish Times understands the man previously worked in a company based in Dublin and through his position there had access to all of his colleagues’ details, including their PPS numbers. Detectives believe the man gathered the details and saved them on a memory stick.
Gardaí suspect the man was not clear at that point about how he was going to use the details.
However, when the pandemic later began and the PUP payments, of up to €350 per week, were offered to people who had lost their jobs, the data he had harvested from his colleagues was put to use to make fraudulent claims, gardaí say.