Gardaí investigating a significant fraud gang based in Waterford have arrested nine suspects and seized the biggest quantity of cryptocurrency ever taken from criminals specialising in frauds based around bogus text messages.
The group operating from Waterford has links to the Black Axe gang, a big international fraud and money laundering syndicate which originated in Nigeria. However, the man gardaí believe has been running the fraud gang in Waterford is Irish.
“The investigation is also conducting enquiries into persons of varying nationalities, multilinguistic, fluent in a number of languages to deceive their victims both nationally and internationally,” the Garda said.
To date nine members have been arrested in the Republic, with two already charged. Some €1.12 million in cryptocurrency has been seized over the last two months and €30,000 in accounts frozen. Gardaí have also seized two vehicles – a VW Golf and a Mercedes – and are investigating the ownership and purchase of a property in Dubai.
The two men already before the courts are facing a variety of charges including alleged money laundering, thefts and frauds.
The Waterford-based gang has been generating and sending huge volumes of text and WhatsApp messages to people in Ireland and abroad attempting to defraud them of sums or money or to secure their bank account and credit card details.
The messages claiming to be from national postal offices, delivery companies and financial institutions, among others. Some victims are duped into paying sums of money, including for bogus customs charges, into accounts controlled by the fraudsters.
However, in other cases when unsuspecting victims input their bank account details in cloned websites their accounts are taken over by the fraudsters. A beneficiary is added to the victim’s account and money transferred to that beneficiary, which is almost always a bank account of a person, or “money mule”, who has agreed to their account being used on the promise of a fee.
Other scams are aimed at securing a victim’s credit card details and once they are obtained they are used to make purchases online.
The Garda’s Waterford Division Crime Hub has been carrying out a major criminal inquiry into the Irish-based gang, with assistance from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau.
The Garda’s National Cyber Crime Bureau has also been involved as well as Europol and the Garda’s Passenger Information Unit, which tracks movements in and out of the Republic. Garda liaison officers in Irish embassies abroad were also dealing with police in those countries part of the inquiry.
The investigation team has found evidence of frauds being perpetrated via bogus text and WhatsApp scams nationally and internationally. The group being led from Waterford has been working with like-minded criminals from across the European Continent as well as the United Kingdom, Dubai and South Africa.