An Irish company that unknowingly paid almost $500,000 to fraudsters was “very lucky” to get it back as it had been sent out of the country for up to six days.
Specialist gardaí managed to locate the transaction and get the money returned before it was gone for good.
The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau is renewing its warning to businesses and individuals to be on alert for emails, or other communication, from what appear to be genuine suppliers to pay money that is owed into a new bank account.
Bureau boss, Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan, said there has been a noticeable increase in what is known as Invoice Redirect Fraud.
“An awful lot of companies have been hit in the last few weeks,” he said. “We are getting a couple of cases every week now.”
This includes a company that lost almost $500,000 (€453,000) and another firm defrauded of over €200,000.
Chief Supt Lordan said that they were “very lucky” to get the $500,000 back as it had been transferred out of the jurisdiction for up to six days before it was identified and returned.
He said the criminal gangs hack into email accounts of companies and individuals and wait until they receive a genuine invoice from a supplier of theirs, looking for money that is owed to them.
They wait until the invoice has come through and send another email requesting that the company change bank account details for the supplier.
“The company might respond and ask 'are you sure you want to change bank accounts', but the criminals are in their email system, they have hacked into it and the email comes to them.
“They are pretending to be the supplier and there could be emails over three or four days or longer. The company thinks there are corresponding with the supplier.”
He said the key thing if such requests come in is “not to trust the email” and to “pick up the phone” and talk to someone in the supplier.
He said the amounts defrauded can range from €10,000 into the millions and that there was one case this year where the bureau had intercepted an attempt to defraud €7m.
Chief Supt Lordan said this issue was not just hitting companies, but also individuals, such as homeowners paying out large sums on renovations.
“You could have someone who owes a builder €20,000 to renovate a house,” he said. “The builder sends the invoice, and the criminals intervene and the money is paid into their account.”