Personal Finance

How to avoid banking and insurance scams

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Sarah Rigney
Staff Writer

Scams are becoming more complex. In this guide, we list the most commonly reported scams such as phone, text, and email scams, and the signs to look out for.

If you’ve recently received a suspicious call or text from what looks like a bank or insurance company, it could actually be from scammers who use this technique to try to get your personal information or banking details. 

These scammers generally give you a false warning about your bank account or invite you to make a lucrative investment.

It’s important that you stay informed about these types of scams in order to identify and avoid them. 

There are clear warning signals to be aware of, which this guide discusses, as well as what to do if you’ve fallen victim to a common banking or insurance scam. 

What is a scam?

A scam is an illegal act that targets people with the aim of: 

  • Receiving bank transfers.
  • Obtaining banking details.
  • Stealing personal information.

With your banking details or a bank transfer, the scammer will get their illegal payment and disappear. However, with personal information, a scammer can commit identity theft.

Identity theft

A scammer can steal your identity, or use parts of your personal information to make a false identity. This can result in scammers: 

  • Purchasing online goods in your name. 
  • Using your bank details to pretend to be you, and steal money.
  • Applying for a personal loan in your name, and have it paid into another account. 

If you believe that you are a victim of identity theft, contact your local Garda station. 

Different types of scams

There are multiple scams in Ireland, the most common being:

  • Phishing: This involves being sent fraudulent communications through email that appear to come from a reputable source (email scams)
  • Smishing: This involves receiving fraudulent text messages, usually containing a link, to trick recipients into disclosing sensitive data. (SMS text scams)
  • Vishing: This involves use of phone calls or voicemails to deceive people into providing personal information. (voice/phone call scams)
  • Skimming: This is an illegal card reading device attached to an ATM that steals your banking information (Illegal card reading device attached to an ATM that steals your banking information) 
  • Spoofing: This is a scam in which criminals try to obtain personal information by pretending to be a legitimate business or another known, trusted source.

Most scams try to panic you into giving your personal information or convince you to give your details in exchange for something very good, such as low rent for a luxury apartment. 

With the support of major banking providers, Banking & Payments Federation Ireland created a fraud awareness initiative in 2017 known as FraudSMART in order to combat fraud. 

In October 2021, FraudSMART released a report which found that fraud losses in 2020 rose by 19.7% year on year to more than €41.5 million. 

Bank scams

There are a few ways that fraudsters will try to get your personal or banking details. 

You might receive a text that says:

  • Your credit card has been compromised, click the link or contact x.
  • Your card has been placed on hold, click the link or contact x. 
  • There’s been suspicious activity on your account, click the link or contact x. 

If there is a link to click, don’t. These links often bring you to fake websites, and when you enter your banking details, fraudsters will steal your money. 

Even if you don’t enter any banking details, there may be a virus on the website that will then infect your phone or computer, allowing scammers to search for your banking details or monitor your device as you make online purchases. 

Fraudsters may also call you and say:

  • They’re from the security/fraud team. 
  • They’d like to help you claim a tax refund
  • You have unauthorised transactions on your account. 
  • They are a law enforcement official who needs your help. 
  • Your account has been over credited and you must transfer x money to x. 

The caller may then ask you to download an app to give them access to your computer, and/or to provide your personal or banking details. 

Always contact your bank directly through the details on their website for confirmation of any contact. 

Scammers may also try to deceive you by disguising their phone numbers so it appears as though they are calling from a trusted source. Known as ‘spoofing’, this type of scam is common in the UK and Europe. 

In November 2022, Gardaí were involved in a global operation to bring down ispoof.cc, a website described by Gardaí as an online fraud shop. 

Criminals used the site to send messages to people via text or email pretending to be from their bank. Messages contained a link, which if activated allowed the criminal access to their bank account to see what recent transactions have taken place.

Insurance scams

These scams are a bit more complex than banking.

Insurance Ireland reports that, primarily through phone calls, fraudsters have been reaching out to people offering either: 

  • A way to make a quick profit.
  • Extremely attractive, long-term returns from an investment. 

Some fraudsters convince people to make investments in fake life insurance or investment funds. They do this by creating fake comparison websites to obtain personal and contact information. 

They then make a phone call claiming to be from an insurance company, having found you through the fake comparison site. 

If you have: 

  • Been offered a false offer such as the above. 
  • Received a suspicious email from an insurance company.
  • Been contacted by a suspicious phone number that cannot be verified on an insurance provider's website.

You should report this on the insuranceconfidential.ie website, or email fraud@insuranceireland.eu. 

How to avoid scammers:

  • Never follow links in suspicious text messages or emails.
  • Don’t give personal information or banking details to suspicious callers. 

If in doubt, find the company website, and contact their helpline for confirmation of any contact. 

What isn’t a scam?

You might check your bank account and find a transaction that you don’t recognise. 

The first thought is usually fraud, but this isn’t always the case, a few things could have happened:

  • If you’re a parent, your child may have used your credit card. 
  • There could be a recurring subscription that you’ve forgotten about. 
  • A business might have accidentally overcharged you, or even charged you twice.

Finally, some businesses have a different trading name than the shop name, so you might not recognise a transaction. 

For example, Boots pharmacy trades as ROI ECOMm online. 

It can also take these companies a few days to process a payment, so don’t be alarmed if you see a surprise transaction later in the week. 

How to get your money back after an unauthorised payment

If a business overcharged you or charged you twice, it should be quite easy to correct things.

Most companies will refund the difference if you contact them and explain the situation. Just be sure to have evidence of the transaction.

If the business does not do this, call your bank provider for further assistance. In the event that a resolution is still not reached, you can request a chargeback from your bank. 

A chargeback will see your bank reverse the transaction so long as you meet your debit or credit card schemes (Visa or MasterCard) terms and conditions, such as applying for a chargeback within 120 days, for example. 

My child used my card 

Your child using your credit or debit card without permission to make an online purchase may be unauthorised, but it is not fraudulent. 

It is generally agreed that a parent is responsible for the supervision of their children. So, if they’ve made a purchase, there is no entitlement to a chargeback from your bank.

However, some businesses may agree to a courtesy refund. 

If you’ve been scammed

If you’ve explored all the above possibilities without an answer, you may have been scammed and you should: 

  • Inform your bank. 
  • Gather all records of the scam.
  • Stop further contact with the scammer. 
  • Not send further payments to the scammer. 
  • Reset passwords, and update anti-virus software. 
  • Report the incident to your local Garda station and consumer protection agencies.

If your money was: 

  • Spent in an unauthorised transaction, your bank must normally refund you.
  • Transferred through a money transfer service, you are unlikely to get your money back. 
  • Sent via bank transfer, it will be difficult to trace, and you should contact your bank.
  • Used to purchase something via credit or debit card, or PayPal, request a chargeback from your bank. 

List of scammer’s phone numbers

Phonenumbers.ie is an international platform where users can add safe and unsafe phone numbers. 

Each phone number includes: 

  • Hazard level
  • User comments 
  • A rating such as “Nuisance” or “Unsafe” 

You can add a scammer's phone number to this database.

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Main sources

Centralbank.ie, Garda.ie, ccpc.ie, citizensinformation.ie, insuranceireland.eu, dataprotection.ie, comreg.ie, fraudsmart.ie, bpfi.ie. 

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