Gardai have been contacted by suspected victims of an international vintage car fraud, who informed investigators they had seen their vehicle in a photograph, circulated by gardai to the media, showed vehicles recovered by gardai in Co Limerick on Tuesday.
The gang behind the alleged deception enterprise are from the Traveller community in Rathkeale, sources said.
The investigation is nine months old and “ongoing”.
A total of 20 classic cars were recovered in the planned “arrest and search” garda raids that resulted in gardai detaining four men who are aged in their 40s and 50s.
All four have been released without charge, pending files to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
“A number of people have come forward from the UK and Ireland as a result of the photograph being circulated in the media,” a source confirmed.
“One particular individual has identified their car from the photograph. They said they are fairly certain they saw their car.”
The cars were to be exported abroad for sale by the gang which has “a base in England and in France”.
“Some were exported abroad. It is a lucrative business; that is obvious given that the 20 vehicles seized in Rathkeale have a combined value of €360,000.”
A consignment of vintage vehicles that were ready for export were “recovered on the back of a lorry, in the Leinster area, and others were discovered in a lock-up”, the source added.
The investigation began last March when Co Limerick officers conducted an investigation into stolen cars.
“Gardai based out of the Newcastle West discovered evidence of stolen cars, which led to this nationwide garda operation.”
“Searches were conducted in Rathkeale, and it started to emerge that gardai were dealing with a much bigger criminal enterprise.”
The Stolen Cars Unit, attached to the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation were drafted in to help lead the “ongoing” probe.
The gang behind the deception are a “settled Traveller (outfit) who are based in Rathkeale”.
“They travel throughout Europe and they specifically target elderly people.”
“Their modus operandi is to rock up to their victim and agree on a price with the owner/seller and con them for a much lesser price.”
“They deal in wads of cash...they count the cash fast and the victim only realises afterwards that, for example, the €3,500 they thought they were getting for the car is actually €1,500.”
“A lot of the injured parties are elderly and the (gang) play down the value of the car or they say they have to go to the bank to withdraw more cash, and they make off in the car.”
The source added: “Some of the cars are advertised for sale but the (gang) also have a good knowledge of where to go for vintage vehicles. They also travel around vintage rallies and events.”