Most people who are duped into investment scams are losing their life savings, according to a new Garda awareness campaign.
In one recent case, a retired professional living in the Midlands lost his entire pension and savings, worth nearly €250,000 in total.
Gardaí say there has been a 120% increase in the number of investment frauds in the last year, with 111 cases reported in 2020.
These 111 cases amount to more than €4m in losses to Irish people.
However, gardaí believe the total amount being lost “runs to tens of millions” of euro, based on reports they receive from international law enforcement agencies relating to frauds detected in their countries involving monies coming from Ireland.
Gardaí believe many victims are embarrassed to report the crime, but they are encouraging people, as part of Fraud Awareness Week, to do so.
Marking the first day of the week, a Garda statement said most people deceived into dodgy investments are losing “in excess of €40,000” or a “person’s life savings”.
Gardaí are warning that “little or none” of the money is ever recovered. They have also noticed a shift in the age group and gender of victims in recent years, away from it being something predominantly affecting older males to a current situation where 40% of the victims are female and where people in their 30s and 40s are also affected.
The Garda statement said investment fraud has risen sharply during the pandemic.
Investment fraud is where criminals pose as investment managers, who promise quick and high rates of return, but end up simply stealing people’s money.
Gardaí say fraudsters use various investment schemes such as in rare metals, overseas property, and alternative energy schemes, including carbon credits and forestry.
“Promises are made of fast, enormous returns, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and can be seen to be endorsed by reputable business people or celebrities but this is without their knowledge,” the statement said.
Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau said: “During Covid-19 times, we have seen a nearly 120% increase in this type of crime. We know that this crime is underreported as victims will often be embarrassed or ashamed at having been caught out.
The Garda statement said “nearly all” recent crimes involve virtual assets such as bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
“Many people online are responding to pop-up ads, following advice received via social media or they seek out investment advice on the internet and follow links to company sites which appear to be professional,” it said.
It said that quite often these fraudulent sites are hosted well beyond the EU, or are companies registered in unregulated jurisdictions.
“There is a huge element of aggressive, hard-selling associated with investments frauds,” it said.
It said fraudsters try and access the victim’s computer and bank accounts.
“False investments are made on behalf of the victim while the criminal transfers and steals the money,” warned the Garda statement.
“Losses start at €1,000, the majority are in excess of €40,000, representing a person’s life savings or pension lump sum.”