Money Times - September 4, 2018

Posted by Jill Kerby on September 04 2018 @ 09:00


Bank fraud is so common that nearly everyone who uses the internet and has a bank account has been targeted.

Today, the fraudsters are members of international gangs and use the information we voluntary post on our social media sites to target the most vulnerable. And no one is more vulnerable (or bigger users of social media) than young people and students, including the tens of thousands of foreign students, who are struggling to find accommodation, let alone pay for soaring rent.

Next month [OCT] the Irish Banking and Payments Federation Fraud Alert section will launch an anti-fraud campaign as third level students return to college. It will warn them of the dangers of being caught up in money laundering scams and identity theft that could result not just in considerable financial loss, but also possibly being charged with money-laundering. 

Two such elaborate frauds making the rounds right now involve outright theft using fake invoicing and the other involving the use of student’s current accounts by foreign money laundering gangs.

I heard about the first one from a reader whose son, a second year medical student in Dublin who was sharing a leased house with other students, ended up being scammed out of €10,708 this summer. 

After deciding to return home to work for the summer to help pay for this next year’s expenses, the son, ‘Sean’, decided to sub-let his room in his shared house on a popular Irish-based property rental website. The rent was €1,708 but the English woman who answered his ad, and with whom he was in touch, sent him a paper bank draft drawn on a Lloyds Bank account for €10,708, not €1,708. 

After quickly contacting her - she claimed she thought he was ‘sub-letting’ his room for the remainder of his lease and not just for the summer - he naively, but promptly, transferred back her €9,000 ‘overpayment’ via an electronic transfer, but this time to a bank in Turkey.

Within a few days of the draft being deposited, €1,708 worth of rent and utilities at his rented house had also been drawn down. A few days later, the bank, which had told him the payment could take “a number of days to clear”, informed Sean that the draft had been returned unpaid.  His account was now ‘overdrawn’ for the entire €10,708.

The banks’ investigators subsequent found that the original bank draft was a counterfeit; it also reported that the Turkish bank to which the €9,000 was transferred refused to cooperate with their investigation.

Sean is now taking an official complaint to the Financial Ombudsman on the grounds that his bank facilitated the drawing down of the funds to both pay his outstanding bills as well as the electronic transfer of the €9,000 ‘overpayment’ before the foreign draft was cleared.

Does he have a case?

Two years ago, in May, 2016 the IBPF published an article on their website about how small Irish merchants had been targeted with a similar version of this scam: a new overseas customer sends the merchant a paper cheque or draft payment to pay for an order. Their payment is a multiple of the correct amount. Once contacted, the buyer apologises for the ‘overpayment’ and suggests that the merchant refunds it by electronic payment.  A few days later, the bank reports that the original invoice payment has effectively ‘bounced’.

According to the IBPF, the Irish banks have reported ‘hundreds’ of such cases of this sophisticated, international fake invoice clearing scam to them over this past summer alone, many of them now involving student account holders. But had the banks learned from their 2016 experience and taken proper preventative measures – say, a software programme to stop on-line customers from accessing funds before they cleared, or to alert them by SMS, a text or email when they did clear, none of these frauds could have happened.

The other major scam that involves the student community, and that will feature in the IBPF’s anti-fraud campaign in October is being dubbed ‘The Money Meal’. 

This time, the international fraudsters identify Irish and foreign students here via their social media sites on which they reveal a great deal of personal information. The fraudsters might claim to be a member of an agency or organisation that is helping support the student community but haven’t yet finalised the setting up of their office or bank. Could the student let them use their account to bring funds to Ireland, for which they will receive a small reward, say €50 or €100? The student is then as ked to transfer the balance to another account, but as with the other scams, the banks pay out before the money from the original transaction has cleared.

The October college information campaign by the IBPF will be warning students that anyone making their account available for such transactions could end up being prosecuted.

But as one banker told me, “Rents are so high now and students are so desperate for money. The scammers know what they’re doing.”


(Letters to jill@jillkerby.ie  The TAB Guide to Money Pensions & Tax 2018 is available in all good bookstores. See www.tab.ie for ebook edition.) 



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