Law enforcement officials in 10 countries conducted sweeping raids Monday on what they is a distributed, organized cybercrime ring that has been conducting online fraud operations across Europe and have stolen more than €3.5 million.
The raids were coordinated by Europol and involved authorities in the U.K., Spain, Portugal, France, Ireland, and several countries, and resulted in the arrests of 42 suspects. Fraudsters in many countries have put more and more of their energy into online fraud as a result of payment card companies moving to chip-and-pin schemes. The use of the newer chip-enabled cards makes it more difficult for criminals to use stolen or cloned cards in person. Online fraud also is a low-risk crime, as it’s easy for criminals to hide their locations and fraud groups typically use multiple tiers of money mules and other associates to launder their purchases.
The action by Europol on Monday is the first European-wide operation against online fraudsters. The investigators searched dozens of locations and found a large number of high-priced items in suspects’ homes.
“A great amount of packages from online shops was intercepted and 120 locations were searched, using information that had been previously submitted by e-merchants, payment industry and logistic companies. The house searches led seizures of high-value goods, including electronic appliances, smartphones, tablets, watches and clothing,” Europol said in a statement.
“The investigative measures also revealed that the suspects might have been involved in other forms of crime, such as ID fraud, phishing, cyber-attacks, romance fraud, illegal use of stolen passports, illegal immigration, money laundering and terrorism. In one case, a fraudster was charged for fraud activities amounting to EUR 600 000 fraud. An employee of a delivery company was found to be involved in the crime as well. A money laundering scheme worth EUR 1.5 million has also been detected.”
EMV cards have been in use in Europe for several years, and the problem of online fraud has been growing. Europol officials said that banks and payment card companies have been participating in the investigations into the trend, and as a result of Monday’s operation, a number of new investigations have been opened.
“Payment card fraud against on-line shops is considered as high profit and low risk criminal activity with losses for the European sector exceeding EUR 1 billion. Investigative measures are very complex due to the virtual and international dimension of this crime. Cyber fraud is a top priority for Europol and law enforcement agencies across the European Union,” Europol said.