Hackerville gangs behind rental scams that earned criminals 1 million euros, gardaí says

Senior police officials say organized crime gangs are involved in rental scams that have resulted in the theft of nearly $ 1 million from unsuspecting victims since February 2019.

Superintendent General Michael Cryan, who set up Operation Omena to combat the crowds, told the Herald that “there is a significant element of organized crime in what is happening with these rental frauds.”

Agents from the Garda National Bureau of Economic Crime (GNECB) identified a gang from the Romanian town of Ramnicu Valcea, nicknamed “Hackerville”.

The city in central Romania has earned its dubious title because more than 80 of its residents have been arrested as part of a major EU crackdown on the mob of fraudsters.

The gang at the center of the lengthy investigation is suspected of carrying out thousands of organized frauds in other EU countries and then using Irish financial institutions to launder the money. Gardaí believes that members of this criminal organization were involved in some of the rental scams here.

“Primarily, this gang has been involved in two different types of organized fraud in Europe,” a high profile source said.

“One of the scams targeted customers of Airbnb and many other hosting providers across Europe.

“Customers have been tricked into paying money for bogus housing. They think they are renting real accommodation, but in fact the money is diverted to the organized criminal gang, who have set up bogus websites.

“In other cases, people have been made to pay a huge sum for all kinds of items, from watches to cars to tractors, in this very elaborate Internet fraud.

“As soon as the money goes into the gang’s bank account, it is withdrawn by the criminals.”

As students prepare to return to college, Gardaí pointed out that a huge percentage of those who have fallen for rental scams in previous years are under 25.

Gardaí said although incidents have declined over the past 18 months with the Covid-19 restrictions, there were still reasons to be cautious.

Superintendent Cryan said only recognized rental companies or people “of good faith” should be trusted.

“Websites can be cloned. Check the URL to make sure it is a real website and take note of the privacy and refund policy sections,” he said.

“Beware of ads on social media or when someone leaving the location will only communicate through Messenger or WhatsApp.

“You have to insist on straightforward answers and if the answers are vague, disengage immediately.

“Beware of unsolicited contact or when the contact appears to be based in other jurisdictions, and especially if there is a sense of urgency like a one-time offer.

“If you have decided to accept the offer, only use trusted money transfer systems. I recommend that you use a credit card.

“Never transfer money directly, pay cash, and never pay into cryptocurrency wallets.

“Beware if a website asks you to send money to a random PayPal address, or wire it via Western Union, or pay with iTunes gift cards, or if it only processes cryptocurrency.

“Most of the time, these methods are used to avoid scrutiny and to ensure that a transaction cannot be reversed.”

A total of 503 cases of rental scams were reported between February 1, 2019 and May 31 of this year.

Almost half of these incidents took place in the Dublin area, with just over € 900,000 stolen from rental scams during this period.

About 42% of all injured parts were under 25, while 72% were under 35.

In addition, specialist detectives from the GNECB were involved in a search yesterday morning in the northern city center of the capital as part of a major Europol investigation which has led to a number of arrests across the Europe.

Gardaí worked closely with the Dutch and Romanian police to target a mob suspected of making millions of euros through all types of fraud.

The target of yesterday’s raid was a Romanian woman who has not been arrested. However, officers seized € 9,000 in cash, as well as cell phones and documents.

“The information is that she is close to one of the main players in this gang,” a senior source said.

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