Money Times - October 6, 2015

Posted by Jill Kerby on October 06 2015 @ 09:00


You might be amazed to hear that the clever little ‘vishing’ fraud revealed recently by the Gardai actually succeeded in scamming amounts as high as €38,000 from the mainly elderly people who fell for it. Who would agree to transfer such huge sums over the phone, even if they did think they were speaking to a person at their bank or a senior Garda officer.

According to the newspaper reports, a sophisticated telephone gang of fraudsters have been targeting older, vulnerable victims – by telephone - with a tall tale.

The caller claims to be the head of security at a well known company or store – say, a well known utility company -  and because of some internal skulduggery, needs to confirm your bank details with you.   If you don’t have any account with them – either you or they will say the other is mistaken - and simply hang up.

But in some cases, there is an account with the company; however, in most cases, the elderly customer at the end of the phone is still unlikely to hand over these details to the stranger at the end of the line, even if does claim to be the so-called head of security. 

‘Fair enough’, replies the caller, assuring them they are doing the right thing.  ‘Give your bank or even your local Garda station a ring to confirm that we are undertaking this investigation, that you are on our list, etc…’.

Doing just that the victim, by this stage, calls their bank or Garda station and is put through to that officials dealing with the store or utility company (for example) and confirms that an investigation is underway. The customer confirms their bank details, and is then instructed to transfer a certain amount of money in their account (or even all of it) to a new account to defend it against this fraud attempt.

What the victim doesn’t know is that when they put down the phone after the first conversation, the ‘vishers’ were still on the line and diverted the call the victim thought they were making; they were actually still on the original line and now someone impersonating their bank official or the Gardai was on the line and instructing them to approve the money transfer.

‘Vishing’- telephone bank account fraud is targetted at older people because they don’t use computers to the same degree as younger ones, who regularly get emails from their bank (and every other one) telling them to confirm their details by ‘clicking here’. This kind of ‘phishing’ has been widely publicised, as have the silly solicitations from so-called crooked ex-oil officials in Nigeria who will share the millions they’ve skimmed from the Department of Energy in Lagos if you would only just supply them with all your bank account details and passwords.

This new scam sounds more plausible, but is just another variation on the guy with the ID tag around his neck who says he’s from the electricity or gas company and needs to check for leaks.  Instead he checks to see where your purse is, or your jewellery or silver and while you’re off getting them a nice cup of tea, is filling his jacket pocket with your cash and valuables.

The message is the same of course – don’t let anyone in your home without an appointment. Get a good chain on your door (or install a glass panelled porch door) so you can speak to callers, but they can’t push their way in. 

Never ever reveal your bank details to anyone over the internet (unless it’s a secure retail site) or over the phone to someone you do not know personally, like your bank manager. If you need or want to transfer money go to the bank and do it in person. (Again the exception is if you do your banking on-line, via secure apps.)

Crude as vishing and phishing scams are, organisations like Age Action Ireland warn that too many older people lose large sums of money and become victims of ‘elder abuse’ by handing it over to unscrupulous family members and carers.

The worst abuses happened during the Celtic Tiger years when older people with large sums on deposit in their banks were encouraged to invest in high risk stocks and shares or investment funds, despite the fact they had little or no time to make up losses in the event that the markets experienced a correction or crash. 

That was exactly what happened of course in 2008.  How to protect yourself against this kind of ostensibly legitimate targeting of your money is a story I’ll return to in a future column.

Correction:  Last week I mentioned that November 13 is the on-line (at www.ros.ie) Pay & File self assessment tax deadline. The deadline is October 12.

Do you have a personal finance question for Jill:? Write to her c/o this newspaper or by email: jill@jillkerby.ie


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