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Teen held in €35k Covid-19 ventilator invoices scam

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(stock photo)

(stock photo)

(stock photo)

An 18-year-old has been arrested by gardai investigating a Covid-19 redirect fraud in which a company was swind-led out of more than €35,000 when it tried to buy life-saving ventilators.

The teenager was still being questioned at Ronanstown Garda Station last night after his arrest yesterday at a property in Maynooth, Co Kildare.

He is suspected of making "direct financial profit" from the scam, and sources said he has had access to the diverted funds, which were directed to his bank account as part of an international criminal conspiracy.

Fraud squad detectives were contacted by Europol earlier this month after it emerged that a Swedish company became the victim of the fraud after it tried to buy ventilators from a legitimate English supplier.

"The suspect was already on the garda radar for street-level drug dealing in Maynooth, but what he has got himself involved in here is at an entirely higher level of criminality," a senior source said last night.

Mule

"The fact this individual was able to directly access funds from the redirect fraud shows he is more than just what is known as a mere mule."

Officers from the Garda Nat- ional Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) raided the property as part of a Europol investigation into the fraud.

Invoice redirection fraud happens when a business falls prey to requests, purporting to come from trusted suppliers or service providers, and is tricked into believing that a beneficiary's bank account details have been changed.

As a result, funds that are due to be paid out are transferred to a fraudulent account.

Sources said there has been an increase in this type of crime across Europe since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The fraudsters often use students' and other young people's bank details by offering them a fee to allow use of their accounts for a few days, but this is not the case with the teenager arrested yesterday, who is being investigated as part of the wider criminal enterprise.

Money mules are usually approached by recruiters and asked to allow their accounts to be used for a transaction in exchange for a fee of a few hundred euro.

Last December, gardai said they had identified 232 suspected money mule accounts active in the State between last September and November, as well as five recruiters.

In the past year, gardai have made a number of arrests of organised criminals who are suspected of being directly involved in invoice redirection frauds, a crime that has cost Irish companies millions of euro.

In a separate case, the Herald revealed earlier this month that fraud squad detectives seized a number of electronic devices and documentation as part of an international probe into a €1m redirect fraud.

Officers from the GNECB raided a property in the Finglas area, where the target was a Nigerian national who is the subject of a major Europol alert.

The suspect, who is aged in his mid-20s, was not arrested in the raid, but multiple devices were seized and are being forensically examined.

Gardai have been assisting Dutch police in an investigation into an organised crime gang in relation to the theft of €1m from a company in the Netherlands.

Last month, Irish firms were warned by the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland to watch out for supplier and invoice scams during the global pandemic.