Online crime jumps by half last year as cyber fraud increases

Approximately €22m was taken during 2020 from victims in payment card scams

More people are shopping online, people who never did it before. Photograph: iStock

More people are shopping online, people who never did it before. Photograph: iStock

 

Online crime in the State jumped by half last year, as criminals moved away from traditional types of theft and robbery to attempting to defraud people as they shopped online, the Garda Síochána has warned.

Last year some 670 people made complaints to the Garda that they were defrauded online, up from 450 cases in 2019, though the Garda believes this figure significantly underestimates the scale of the problem.

When people do report cyber-crime, they do so to banks and credit card companies rather than the Garda. In all, approximately €22m was taken during 2020 from victims in payment card scams that were reported.

Meanwhile, most other crimes fell sharply because of the lockdowns and gardaí now believe more criminals are moving away from traditional forms of crime towards cyber-based offences, which are more lucrative and come with lower risk.

While online crime jumped by half, residential burglaries are down by 41 per cent, having already been at or near records before the pandemic began. Property crime also fell, by 30 per cent, in the 12 months to January.

“Crime where there’s a physical interaction between criminals and injured parties dropped dramatically last year because of Covid-19; shops being closed, pubs closed, nobody has been out and about,” said one officer.

‘Cyber frauds’

“More people are shopping online, people who never did it before. Now all forms of cyber frauds – online shopping scams or trying to get people’s bank card or account details – are even taking over from drugs now in terms of how lucrative they are.”

“A burglar, or somebody who is into robberies can only do one crime at a time,” said one highly-experienced senior officer, “But online, you can send emails to thousands of people trying to get their PPS numbers from them or their bank, or payment card details.”

Online shopping crime is now “rampant” with victims often being robbed of thousands of euro at a time when “buying everything from a designer handbag to a boat or a tractor” online, said another expert.

Fraudsters are using fake passports and other documents to set up fake websites, including ones that pretend to be those of legitimate companies. Money is then paid over, but lodged to fraudulently-created bank accounts.

Urging shoppers to be wary of cut-price deals and to avoid transactions where the seller wants to act quickly, the Garda said people should only use trusted websites.

Transactions priced in cryptocurrency “should send up a red flag,” the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau said, as should online adverts written in poor English, or filled with grammatical errors.

Equally, people should be wary where transactions are conducted from Ireland, but involving accounts in other jurisdictions, and urged to avoid making payments by wire transfer, or paying using online gift cards.