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Health bodies get garda warning as fraudsters peddle phantom PPE

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Medics help each other don personal protective equipment before another shift on the frontline battling the coronavirus

Medics help each other don personal protective equipment before another shift on the frontline battling the coronavirus

Medics help each other don personal protective equipment before another shift on the frontline battling the coronavirus

Fraud squad detectives are monitoring an international PPE scam that has led the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to send out a warning to its members.

Since the coronavirus crisis began, organised criminal networks have been trying to cash in on the global shortage of personal protective equipment with a number of elaborate scams.

The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) has been playing a key role in a separate investigation into a sophisticated international €15m Covid-19 scam that led to a Co Roscommon-based suspect being questioned and €1.5m in his bank account being frozen.

Warned

In the latest scam, the GNECB is "cross-checking any links to Ireland", but senior sources said that so far no cases have been brought to the bureau's attention here.

Earlier this week, crime agency Europol notified gardai of the latest PPE fraud, who advised the HSE, which then issued a warning to the IMO.

In a memo sent to members, the IMO passed on garda advice in relation to the scam, stating: "There is a real risk that healthcare institutions will be scammed and they must be notified as soon as possible."

Europol is working on "a network of scammers" who have set up several false English and French companies "who offer medical equipment to health professionals and then get them to pay more than 70pc in advance on the pretext of supply difficulties".

However, once the payment is made to "dedicated accounts" in Belgium and England, the funds are sent to "rebound accounts" in other countries, including China and Portugal, and the promised PPE deliveries never arrive.

The IMO memo lists a number of legitimate companies and websites whose "identity is usurped" in the scam.

"Gardai have no information yet that anyone in Ireland has fallen victim to this scam, but what is not in doubt is that the coronavirus has led to an increase in a certain types of frauds," a senior source said.

Last week, the GNECB warned the public about a new fraud banking attempt.

Criminals are trying to obtain Irish people's personal banking details with email requests to update Netflix accounts with banking or credit card details.

Separately, Bank of Ireland has warned the public to be wary of scam text messages that aim to steal customers' details.

The bank has seen a recent spike in messages specifically aimed at customers in a process known as "smishing".

Malware

In addition to that scam, people should also be wary of several others, including daily malware and phishing emails, social media posts linking to fake websites and requests to call premium phone lines operating as advice centres.

Senior sources said the pandemic has also led to an increase in so-called online sextortion scams, which are a form of digital blackmail targeting people who may or may not have accessed porn websites.

"There are three main types of the way sextortion works, and in each case the clear advice is for the target of the blackmail attempt never to engage with who is emailing them," a source said.

"It is widely believed that there has been an increase in those watching porn websites globally since the pandemic began.

"Of course, criminals are upping the ante when it comes to attempting to blackmail people with anonymous emails which threaten to expose them unless they are paid off with a large sum in bitcoin."