Meathman's Diary: Cautionary tales from the courts on cyber crime

Last week a 23-year-old man appeared at Trim District Court on a charge of fraudulently extracting €250 from the bank accounts of four individuals and transferring it to his Revolut account. He then withdrew the €1,000 in cash from an ATM.

In the court hearing he made out that someone else must have committed the crime by using his “lost” passport and setting up a false account in order to carry out the fraud. It appeared that his explanation didn’t hold water and this was borne out by the decision of Judge Cormac Dunne to convict him. The defendant offered to pay €400 in compensation saved up from his one-day-a-week job in a coffee shop but that was turned down and he received a €1,000 fine along with a three-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months. He now goes forward in life with a criminal conviction.

The incidence of this type of crime – carried out by electronic means – is increasing, as highlighted by Judge Dunne when he was summing up the facts of the case. He said that while the banks reimbursed the individual account holders for their loss, the fact was that this was a major inconvenience for people who had been at the loss of their money, however temporarily. Anecdotal evidence shows that cyber crime is on the increase and a number of cases have come before Trim District Court since the start of the New Year.

While the case that came before the court last week was unusual in that the defendant tried to claim that his passport had been stolen and that somebody else stole his identity and used it to steal from other people’s bank accounts, but the normal modus operandi of fraudsters is to target young and financially vulnerable people without criminal convictions by texting them and asking for the use of their bank account and, in turn, using it to commit crime. The victims of this type of crime are usually asked to respond to what they think is a “genuine” official-looking website or email message. When they do their account is then controlled by the thieves and the money extracted.

The four account holders in this case can thank Garda Damien Griffin for putting in some very useful footwork in this case. Many other victims find that their money can’t be retrieved and they are at permanent loss.

While many of these crimes are committed by individuals – often young students – there is also an organised gang, The Black Axe Gang, at work in this area of criminality. It comprises mainly African men and there are up to 70 men operating in its higher ranks. Gardai have achieved some good results against them but, to coin a phrase, there is much work to be done.

So, here is the best advice that can be offered in dealing with cyber crime. If you think you can earn some “easy” money by accepting a text and then allowing your bank account to be used by fraudsters, just consider the consequences – you might get a criminal conviction which could affect you if you wish to emigrate in the future or seek employment. If you are an honest hardworking bank account holder NEVER casually click on any link that looks official. Check it out. Don’t be fooled by seemingly-innocent emails or text messages.