Europol Dismantled Massive Online Fraud Operation With 106 Members

By Bill Toulas / September 20, 2021

Europol has just announced the arrest of 106 individuals who are believed to be members of a fraud ring that was making at least €10 million yearly. Most of the arrests happened in Italy and Spain through the coordinated efforts of Policía Nacional and Polizia di Stato. The operation involved 16 house searches and the seizure of 224 credit cards, SIM cards, thousands of Euros, PoS terminals, drugs, and various electronic devices that could contain further incriminating evidence.

The gang was well-organized in a pyramid structure, and every member had a specialized role that they had to fulfill. Large parts of their operation involved phishing attacks, SIM swapping attacks, business email compromise, and then international money laundering. It is estimated that the group defrauded hundreds of people, making roughly a million USD every month. Europol comments that there are links to the Italian Mafia, which hasn’t left online fraud unchecked as it seems.

The ring paid special attention to money laundering, recruiting Italian experts in cryptocurrencies. For the laundering, they used a very wide network of bouncing points, not only including “money mules” but also bank accounts of shell companies. As a result of this police operation, 118 bank accounts linked to the arrested individuals have been frozen.

According to the details given by the Spanish police, the actors were opening and closing accounts all the time, and in some cases, threatened kidnapped women at gunpoint to create tens of online bank accounts with their name for the crime organization.

The SIM swapping operation helped as a way for the mafia’s top-ranking identified members who were burdened by pan-European force arrest warrants to continue to live freely by controlling other people’s money accounts directly. Any financial activities were traced back to innocent identities, so these criminals could roam between Bari, Tenerife, Napoli, and Barcelona without leaving a financial transaction trace. The actors also used high-quality false documentation and generally knew very well how to hide from the police.

The investigation on the particular crime group started in July 2020, so this result comes almost one year of hard work that went into locating all members and organizing a simultaneous action. Reportedly, the criminals were found to hold “fresh” false documents and were in the process of escaping when they were eventually raided and arrested, indicating that they had received a tip about an imminent law enforcement operation.

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