Consumers’ Association of Ireland chief executive Dermot Jewell revealed that a legal loophole is preventing any action against the fraudsters after fresh calls were made for convictions over the issue.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, the consumer expert said since the European health insurance card system — which allows free cover across the EU for tourists — was introduced in Jun 2004, scam artists have repeatedly set up websites offering access to the service.
These sites often charge up to €30 or €40, and are designed to look like official state services. In reality they are scamming websites offering access to cards which are free from the HSE and other health services across the EU.
Those behind the scams, which are believed to bring in tens of thousands of euro every year, are regularly forced to take down the sites before setting up new, almost identical versions.
Mr Jewell said they cannot be touched by the law as the scams are worded in such a way as to take advantage of loopholes in Ireland and other countries’ legal systems. “They’re often not illegally trading because they will put in words like ‘we also offer this service’ at the end of pages of text.
“They’re not saying they are exclusively offering it. It’s a lie of omission, but technically it means they are not breaking the law in charging people administrative fees for something that is free from the heath service anyway,” he said, adding that the only real websites are www.hse.ie and www.ehic.ie.
Mr Jewell’s comments came after Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty warned tourists to be on alert for scams targeting their cash.
She said she is aware of “at least one website — http://www.hse-ehic.net/book.html — which is wrongly using the ‘HSE’ tag in its address, and is trying to dupe holiday makers into paying for the card”.
“I have no doubt that many people could be easily conned into stumping up for the EHIC card, when they shouldn’t have to pay anything at all,” she said.