A traveller’s cheque scam was so sophisticated that it not only duped an Athenry man struggling under the pressure of financial difficulty but also managed to pass the anti-fraud measures of two financial institutions a number of times before being detected, the Galway Circuit Criminal Court heard this week.
Judge Gerard Griffin warned of the ability of these types of scams to create “patsies” after hearing how former customs officer Eoin Breslin had fallen for what he thought was an online job opportunity originating out of western Africa and where fraudulant American Express cheques had been sent to him to cash resulting in Bank of Ireland suffering a loss of around €22,900.
Breslin with an address at 19 Cullairbaun, Athenry, had pleaded guilty to six counts of theft by using counterfeit traveller’s cheques at Bank of Ireland, Eyre Square. The court heard yesterday how on February 23, 2011, the Bank of Ireland had made contact with gardai to report of the theft and it was revealed that on October 8, 2010, the defendant had lodged €3,500 worth of American Express traveller’s cheques and withdrawn €3,000 from his account. He returned on October 14 and lodged a cheque valued at €5,000 and withdrew €4,475. Then on November 30 Breslin lodged a cheque to the value of €5,000 and withdrew €4,487, on December 8 he lodged a cheque valued at €500 and withdrew €500, on December 14 he lodged a cheque valued at €5,000 and withdrew €4,470, and on December 30 he lodged a cheque valued at €3,900 and withdrew €3,000.
It was noted that Breslin had gone to the Garda station voluntarily and admitted to the offence, telling gardai that he had applied for a job online and had received an email from a cotton plantation in western Africa giving him details of the task that would make him extra money. Soon after he received a magazine in the post and inside it contained a number of traveller’s cheques. Within a matter of weeks he received a call from a man in Lagos telling Breslin that if the cheques were lodged and he withdrew the money they would keep 90 per cent of the cash and he would keep 10 per cent of the money. A total of €22,900 had been withdrawn at Bank of Ireland and Breslin had kept €3,000 of this.
The investigating garda further explained that this was a “computer based fraud from Africa” and that by his own admission Breslin “knew it was too good to be true”. The court also heard that Breslin had “fallen on hard times” after his house had been damaged because of flooding in the area.
Defence solicitor Brendan Browne said his client had fully co-operated with gardai and that he had fallen into arrears with his mortgage and credit union account. “There was an element of naivity and stupidity,” said Mr Browne before adding that it was out of character for a man with previous good background.
The court then heard that the fraudualent cheques were so well made it had not been spotted at first, and that on one occasion the bank rang American Express to confirm the number on the cheque and that this number was real. The investigating garda added that the scam was “highly organised” and sophisticated.
After hearing the evidence Judge Griffin imposed a total of 12 months on each count, to run concurrently, but suspended on condition that Breslin keep the peace and be of good behaviour for a period of three years