The scam stories keep coming, and they are in equal measure sad and sinister.
“I got a text from who I thought was my daughter on July 18th telling me that she had a temporary phone number for the immediate future, as she had dropped her phone,” begins a mail from a reader who we shall call Penny, although that is not her real name.
This opening instantly had us sighing a weary sigh, as you might well expect.
“She asked me to save the number, which I did, and she said that she would contact me later. She also said that she couldn’t access her online bank account for the next 48 hours and was very stressed,” Penny writes.
Penny believed what she was told and expressed her concern to her “daughter” in a series of messages: she sent us screen grabs of them, and the back-and-forth between her and her “daughter” are as you might expect. If anything they are more authentic than most we have come across. The criminals behind them were clearly putting some effort into convincing Penny it was her daughter sending the messages.
An added element to this story is that Penny’s daughter was “only a few weeks pregnant at this time” so obviously the levels of concern were heightened.
“As [my daughter] hadn’t made contact with me that evening, I was extremely worried and the following morning, I received another text from the same number asking me to make a payment for her at the bank. She told me to go [the bank] and she would send me the details. Of course I believed her! She also instructed me to go to the bank first thing and be there when it opened!”
I am glad the scam was unsuccessful in this case, because the reporting of it has been very unsatisfactory.
Penny did as she was told. The amount her “daughter” said she needed was more than €3,400.
It is a lot of money, and not a sum most of us would have lying about the place. Nor did Penny. She transferred the money from her credit union account the day after the first message arrived.
“The next message I was sent was ‘Please let me know when you have it done?’,” she writes.
Penny was then asked to transfer more money and it was “only then that the penny dropped. I immediately contacted the credit union and informed it of what had happened. I was told to immediately report this matter to the gardai and I did so. The gardai told me to inform the bank.”
A couple of weeks passed before she heard back from her credit union that the money was gone.
“Can I ask the following questions? I know that I signed a form transferring the money into this account but it turned out to be a scam and was widely discussed on Liveline that week, and obviously I hadn’t heard about it. There were lots of other people who had lost their money in similar circumstances to me, but is there no insurance cover for those kind of scams? Do we, as the general public, have any comeback? If this had happened with any of the banks, would we be treated the same way? Aren’t the credit unions and banks both financial institutions?
We can answer the questions, but the answers will not offer Penny much by way of comfort.
The reality is that if we are hoodwinked by criminals into transferring money to them via a so-called mule account that they have control of, they will immediately transfer it out of this jurisdiction and then to countries that are beyond the reach of the Irish or European authorities.
We have little by way of comeback, and while funds can sometimes be returned if the transfers can be halted in time, many millions of euro are lost by Irish consumers every year. While it was a credit union in this instance, it could easily have been a bank and the outcome would most likely have been the same.
Many readers will be familiar with this mam or dad scam: it popped up last Christmas, and countless thousands of people have been targeted since then. If even a tiny percentage of people are duped, then it becomes very profitable for the criminals.
The only piece of advice we can offer is that if you or anyone you know ever gets a text from a random number from someone claiming to be a child, stop and think. The very first thing you should do is contact your child on their actual number, or even text them. And under no circumstances transfer any money to an unknown account.
While funds can sometimes be returned if the transfers can be halted in time, many millions of euro are lost by Irish consumers every year
That was not the only scam-related story shared with us last week. Thankfully, the second one did not see anyone lose any money.
“A member of my family very nearly lost €1,000 to a scam this week,” writes a reader called Katrina. “I am still unpacking how shocked I am that this person (who is as sharp as a tack) nearly got caught in such an obvious scam.
“Happily, they did not. And, unusually, I believe, I have the bank details of the fraudster.”
She called the local Garda station and gave them details, but says the guard who took the details did not seem overly confident anything could be done.
“Anyway, as it is a credit union account, I also looked for the fraud contact number for credit unions to report it,” she continues.
Katrina found a number but, “having spoken to the lovely staff member, this number is only for debit cards”.
She continues: “It appears they have no mechanism for [reporting fraud like this], and suggested I contact my local credit union branch to report it. I made sure I was understood (’Do you understand I am trying to report a scam that is using a credit union account?’), but to no avail.
“I do not know if it is usual or unusual to have the fraudster’s actual bank account details. But surely, the credit union would want to follow up on this immediately. Am I missing something? Some clear advice on how to report these types of events?”
To her credit, as well as reporting the fraud to her local Garda station and the Credit Union, Katrina also reported the account details to the Central Bank’s whistle-blower service and the community credit union offices.
“I am glad the scam was unsuccessful in this case, because the reporting of it has been very unsatisfactory. At the very least, perhaps banks could have a webpage or contact line where you can report this to them. I don’t know how rare or common it is to actually have a legitimate bank account detail in these cases. It could be that the account holder is a mule, or is the actual fraudster – in either case, surely a phone call from their bank would put the wind up them. I wonder if the Gardai and the Central Bank realise that people value prevention over punishment.”
There were lots of other people who had lost their money in similar circumstances to me, but is there no insurance cover for those kind of scams?
Finally, for now, we heard about a murky-sounding scam from a reader named Tara. “I have a possible new scam to be aware of,” she writes.
She was on a delayed Aer Lingus flight recently that she posted about on social media, and “received a response and a DM from what looked like Aer Lingus. They asked for my phone number and, strangely, phoned me on WhatsApp”.
She says this was “way too fast for Aer Lingus customer service”, and adds: “A few things didn’t add up. I was asked if I wanted compensation. I said I would just prefer Aer Lingus in Dublin to be more open with communication. I was also asked if the flight had taken off. Again, if it were Aer Lingus, they would know this.”
Tara says there were more calls which she ignored, asking them instead to message her instead. “I was told it was better on a call. Just in case someone does take the offer of compensation, I am assuming bank or credit card details will be asked for.”