‘Be very careful’ – Garda warning as scammers target people desperate for short-term loans with ‘advance fee’ scam
People looking for loans online are urged by the gardaí to exercise extreme caution about who they deal with after a recent increase in the number of people falling victim to so-called ‘advance fee’ scams.
The scam is particularly ruthless in that it targets people who desperately need money and cannot get credit from traditional financial institutions.
While other phone and text scams, such as fake messages from government agencies such as Revenue, persist, the “advance fee” scam is different in that fraudsters wait for someone desperate to do an online credit search, then they take advantage of that person.
“How it works is that a person goes online and searches for ‘quick credit’ or ‘quick loans‘ in a search engine, and they will find a number of different companies offering their services,” said said Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan of the Garda National Economic. Crime Bureau (GNECB).
“Some of these sites might be legit, but a number of them will be scammers who have cloned or imitated a legit site, and even make it look Irish although it is likely to be controlled from abroad .
“A desperate person fills in their details, then a few minutes later they get a phone call to discuss the ‘loan’ and they will be told that to qualify they will have to pay the first installment as insurance, or to prove that they are legit.
“So if you seek a loan of €2,000 from them in the short term, you’ll have to pay five or 10% up front. You pay the money and you never hear from them again.
“While the amount stolen may seem small on an individual basis, it is often stolen from people who are already financially strapped, and it all adds up for the scammer.
“If you can take €50 from 1,000 people, that’s €50,000,” Detective Superintendent Cryan explained.
He advised anyone dealing with a financial institution to check with the Central Bank’s website to make sure they are regulated by them.
“Be very careful to check the exact wording of the business name, as many scammers make their sites look almost identical to a business with a legitimate track record, but maybe change words like ‘credit’ in the title in ‘loans,'” he said. .
He also warned that at this time of year many students or their parents fall victim to apartment or apartment accommodation scams near colleges or universities.
He advised people to only use reputable rental agencies or deal with people who are bona fide and trustworthy.
“Websites can be cloned. Check the URL to make sure it’s a real website and take note of the privacy and refund policy sections.
“Beware of advertisements on social media or where someone leaving the location will only communicate via Messenger or WhatsApp.
“You must insist on direct answers and if the answers are vague, disengage immediately.
“Be careful of unsolicited contacts or where the contact appears to be based in other jurisdictions, and especially if there is a sense of urgency such as a ‘one-time deal’.
“If you have decided to accept the offer, use only reliable money transfer systems. Never transfer money directly, pay in cash or pay into cryptocurrency wallets.
“Beware if a website asks you to send money to a random PayPal address, or asks you to transfer it via Western Union, pay in iTunes gift cards, or only transact in cryptocurrency .
“Most of the time, these methods are used to avoid scrutiny and ensure that a transaction cannot be reversed.”
Cryptocurrency itself as a source of investment fraud has also been highlighted by the GNECB.
With news this week that around half a million people now own cryptocurrencies in this country, gardaí fears that the lure of this invisible currency is strong and the risk of getting caught by scammers is high in result.
Earlier this year, the GNECB said there had been a 120% increase in investment fraud during the Covid pandemic.
People looking online for a place to invest their savings or pension funds are lured by the promise of big returns, but are often scammed by scammers posing as legitimate financial companies.
Most investment fraud cases involve sums over €40,000, and gardaí’s advice is to always check that the company you are dealing with is regulated by the Central Bank here in Ireland.
“If a transaction or return on investment seems too good to be true, it most likely is,” Detective Superintendent Cryan said.
“If you are looking for a loan or to invest money, talk to someone you trust and get advice before trusting a website.”