An organised crime group (OCG) specialising in online fraud has been taken down by the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional), supported by the Italian National Police (Polizia di Stato), Europol and Eurojust.
The OCG, linked to the Italian Mafia, was engaged in a wide range of online fraud activities such as phishing, SIM swapping and business email compromise (also known as CEO Fraud). Hundreds of victims were defrauded and the illegal gains were laundered through a wide network of money mules and shell companies. In just one year of operation the illegal profit is estimated at around €10 million. The OCG was also involved in drug trafficking and property crime.
The successful combined police operation lasted over a year.
- 106 arrests, mostly in Spain and some in Italy
- 16 house searches
- 118 bank accounts frozen
- Seizures include many electronic devices, 224 credit cards, SIM cards and point-of-sale terminals, a marihuana plantation and equipment for its cultivation and distribution.
The OCG was very well organised in a pyramid structure, which included different specialised areas and roles. Among the members of the criminal group were:
- computer experts, who created the phishing domains and carried out the cyber fraud;
- recruiters and organisers of the money muling;
- and money laundering experts, including experts in cryptocurrencies.
Most of the suspected OCG members are Italian nationals, some of whom have links to Mafia organisations. The suspects, located in Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands, tricked their victims, mainly Italian nationals, into sending large sums to bank accounts controlled by the criminal network.
Cross Border Cooperation
Europol facilitated the information exchange, the operational coordination and provided analytical support for the investigation. Two analysts and one forensic expert were deployed to Tenerife, and one analyst to Italy. Europol also funded the deployment of three Italian investigators to Tenerife to support the Spanish authorities during the action day.
Europol’s Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT) supported the operation. J-CAT is made up of cyber liaison officers from different countries who work from the same office on high profile cybercrime investigations.
The EAST Expert Group on Payment and Transaction Fraud (EPTF), which meets three times each year, focuses on the prevention of payment and transaction fraud, including SIM swapping and business email compromise, as well as related social engineering such as phishing.
To date the EAST EPTF has produced 20 Payment Alerts for EAST members, and has also published Fraud Terminology and Fraud Definitions to help standardise how fraud is categorised and reported. The aim is for the terminology and definitions to be adopted globally when describing or reporting payment and terminal fraud.