IT support company Smarttech has noted increasing misuse of the crest of An Garda Síochána in online fraud in Ireland and believes its police force needs to take greater steps to ensure the public is aware of this criminal activity.
Over the past year, Smarttech has noted a surge in the number of reports of online scams involving the iconography of An Garda Síochána. These scams involve ‘ransomware’, which lock users out of access to their computers until they pay a ‘fine’.
Warnings claiming to be from official garda sources appear demanding the fine is paid or else the computer remains locked and legal action will be taken. Infected computers can have their computer screen locked or predetermined files may be encrypted with a password.
Ransomware incidents were first reported in 2005 and, over the years, this online scam has become more advanced, targeting victims based on their geographical location. This is why Irish users see warnings purporting to be from An Garda Síochána, while users elsewhere see fake threats from other authorities.
“This has been happening all over Europe for the past year or two. The Bundespolizei in Germany had a similar situation, as well as the police force in the UK,” said Smarttech CEO Ronan Murphy.
An example of the fake warning computers infected with ransomware have seen
More awareness needed
Murphy believes An Garda Síochána should be taking more measures to warn the public of this scam and his company has contacted the gardaí requesting renewed action on this online threat. One suggestion from Smarttech is for the gardaí to call attention to these scams using social media. To date, An Garda Síochána’s activities on Twitter have been limited to traffic updates, though its Facebook page has a much broader scope.
Gardaí did warn of these scams last summer, but Smarttech recommends constant vigilance and a stronger awareness campaign to ensure the public is informed enough to know when their computers have become infected.
“A social media campaign by the gardaí could go a long way in decreasing the number of attacks taking place,” said Murphy. “When people are informed and aware they are much less likely to get taken in.”
Smarttech advises anyone whose computer has become infected with ransomware not to pay any money demanded and have their PC inspected by a reputable repair person.