Phishing gang busted by cross-border Police operation

A cross-border operation, supported by Europol and involving the Belgian Police (Federale Politie) and the Dutch Police (Politie), resulted in the dismantling today of an organised crime group (OCG) involved in phishing, fraud, scams, and money laundering.

  • The OCG used email, text messages and mobile messaging applications to contact their victims.
  • These messages contained a phishing link leading to a bogus banking website.
  • Thinking they were viewing their own bank accounts through this website, the victims were duped into providing their banking credentials to the suspects. The investigative leads suggest that the criminal network managed to steal several million euros from their victims with this fraudulent activity.
  • The OCG used money mules to transfer these funds from the victim’s accounts and to cash out the fraudulently obtained money.
  • Members of the OCG have also been connected with cases of drugs trafficking and possible firearms trafficking.

Police Action

On 21 June 2022 the coordinated Police action led to:

  • 9 arrests in the Netherlands
  • 24 house searches in the Netherlands
  • Seizures including firearms, ammunition, jewellery, electronic devices, cash and cryptocurrency

Europol facilitated the information exchange, the operational coordination and provided analytical support for investigation. During the operation, Europol deployed three experts to the Netherlands to provide real-time analytical support to investigators on the ground, forensics and technical expertise.

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 phishing. The 12th EAST EPTF meeting took place on 13 April 2022.

National & Global Fraud Intelligence sharing – 1st EAST Global Congress

The 1st EAST Global Congress took place on Thursday 16th June 2022 at Europol’s HQ in the Hague as a hybrid meeting, with some delegates participating online. This was the first in-person meeting of EAST Global and National Members since February 2020.  Six virtual interim meetings were held between that meeting and the Global Congress.

The meeting was chaired by Graham Mott from the LINK Scheme and the key focus was on the sharing of payment and terminal fraud intelligence (global, regional, national).  A special welcome was given to Olesya Danylchenko from the Ukrainian Interbank Payment Systems Member Association (EMA).

Law enforcement overviews were provided by Europol, the Gulf Cooperation Council Police (GCCPOL), and the United States Secret Service (USSS).  An update was provided from Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) on various fraud types and an updated version of the document Guidance and Recommendations Regarding Logical Attacks Against ATMs‘  was officially launched.  A presentation from Europol’s Organised Property Crime Unit covered recent Physical ATM attacks across Europe. The USSS update covered recent reports from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3), as well the latest fraud trends seen.

Private sector fraud intelligence updates were received from 25 countries, either directly or via regional/global updates by HSBC and Worldline.  Regional Updates were also provided for ASP, and MENA.  Each update covered Fraud Types, Fraud Origin, Due Diligence and Physical Attacks (ATM, ATS and CIT).  The importance of raising consumer awareness to counter the rising threats related to social engineering remains a key issue.

Updates were also given by the Chairs of the three EAST Expert Groups:

EAST Fraud Update 2-2022 will be produced early next month, based on the country updates provided at the EAST Global Congress.  EAST Fraud, Payment, and Physical Attack Alerts are available on the EAST Intranet to EAST Members.

The 2nd EAST Global Congress, scheduled for 5th October 2022, will also be held as a Hybrid Meeting.

National & Global Fraud Intelligence sharing – 6th Interim EAST Meeting

The sixth Interim Meeting of EAST National and Global Members took place on Wednesday 9th February 2022 as a virtual meeting. The meeting was chaired by Thomas Von der Gathen from Payment Services Austria (PSA).  The key focus was on the sharing of global, regional, and national, payment and terminal fraud intelligence.

Law enforcement overviews were provided by Europol, the Gulf Cooperation Council Police (GCCPOL), and the United States Secret Service (USSS).  An update was provided from Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) on various fraud types and a presentation from Europol’s Organised Property Crime Unit covered recent Physical ATM attacks across Europe.  The GCCPOL presentation covered payment and fraud issues seen by their 6 member countries focussing on Technological Fraud (crimes committed using different forms/types of machines and technology) and Non-Technological Fraud (conducted directly against the victim). The USSS update covered card fraud and recent man-in-the-middle black box attacks.

Private sector fraud intelligence updates were received from 28 countries, either directly or via regional/global updates by Citi, HSBC and Worldline.  Regional Updates were also provided for ASP, MENA and LATAM. Each update covered Fraud Types, Fraud Origin, Due Diligence and Physical Attacks (ATM, ATS and CIT).  The importance of raising consumer awareness to counter the rising threats related to social engineering remains a key issue, particularly for elderly people.

EAST Fraud Update 1-2022 will be produced early next month, based on the country updates provided at the Interim EAST Meeting.  EAST Fraud, Payment and Physical Attack Alerts are available on the EAST Intranet to EAST Members.

The next meeting of this group, scheduled for 16th June 2022, will hopefully be the 1st EAST Global Congress, which is planned as Hybrid Meeting.  This is dependant on the prevailing travel situation at that time, and the meeting will revert to a virtual Interim Meeting if required.

European Money Mule Action leads to 1803 arrests

Money Mule ActionThe anti-money mule operation EMMA 7 concluded today.  This is an international action coordinated by Europol in cooperation with 27 countries, Eurojust, INTERPOL, the European Banking Federation (EBF) and the FinTech FinCrime Exchange.

The operation resulted in 1,803 arrests and the identification of over 18,000 money mules.  It also revealed that money mules were being used to launder money for a wide array of online scams such as SIM-swapping, man in the middle attacks, e-commerce fraud, and phishing.

During  EMMA 7 law enforcement, financial institutions and the private sector, including Western Union, Microsoft, and Fourthline, cooperated in a concerted effort against money laundering in Europe, Asia, North America, Colombia, and Australia.

As well as targeting the laundering of profits through money muling networks, investigators also sought intelligence on the sources of these illicit profits, shedding more light on the size and nature of the criminal economies that money mules serve.

The European Money Mule Action ‘EMMA’, was established in 2016 on the initiative of Europol, Eurojust and the European Banking Federation.  It is the largest international operation of its kind, built around the idea that public-private information sharing is key to fighting complex modern crimes.  Around 400 banks and financial institutions supported the action, reporting 7,000 fraudulent transactions and preventing a total loss estimated at nearly €70 million.

Participating countries in EMMA 7 were: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Colombia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Germany, Hong Kong-China, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Moldova, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, United Kingdom, United States.

Public Awareness is key for the Prevention of Money Muling

Unlike many financial crimes, money mules can be recruited unknowingly into criminal operations.  The organised crime groups do this by preying on groups such as students, immigrants, and those in economic distress, offering easy money through legitimate-looking job adverts and social media posts.  Ignorance is not an excuse and money mules break the law by laundering the illicit proceeds of crime.

To counter this Europol coordinated the ‘#DontBeAMule’ awareness campaign with all participant countries, law enforcement and the EBF (on behalf of the European banks), as a means to prevent more innocent bystanders being exploited by criminals and putting themselves at risk.

National & Global Fraud Intelligence sharing – 5th Interim EAST Meeting

The fifth Interim Meeting of EAST National and Global Members took place on Wednesday 6th October 2021. Due to the Covid-19 situation, it was conducted as a virtual meeting. The meeting was chaired by Veronica Borgogna from AXEPTA BNP Paribas.  The key focus was on the sharing of global, regional, and national, payment and terminal fraud intelligence.

Law enforcement overviews were provided by Europol, the Gulf Cooperation Council Police (GCCPOL), the United States Secret Service (USSS) and INTERPOL.  Two presentations were made by Europol: one from the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) covered recent successful cross-border operations; the other covered Physical ATM attacks across Europe.  The GCCPOL presentation covered payment and fraud issues seen by their 6 member countries focussing on Technological Fraud (crimes committed using different forms/types of machines and technology) and Non-Technological Fraud (conducted directly against the victim). The USSS presentation covered Covid-19 pandemic relief fraud and the INTERPOL presentation covered recent issues relating to financial crimes in the LATAM region.

Private sector fraud intelligence updates were received from 28 countries, either directly or via regional/global updates by Citi, HSBC and Worldline.  Regional Updates were also provided for ASP, MENA and LATAM. Each update covered Fraud Types, Fraud Origin, Due Diligence and Physical Attacks (ATM, ATS and CIT).  The importance of raising consumer awareness to counter the rising threats related to social engineering remains a key issue.

EAST Fraud Update 3-2021 will be produced early next month, based on the country updates provided at the Interim EAST Meeting.  EAST Fraud, Payment and Physical Attack Updates are available on the EAST Intranet to EAST Members.

The next meeting of this group, scheduled for 9th February 2022, will hopefully be the 1st EAST Global Congress, which is planned as Hybrid Meeting.  This is dependant on the prevailing status of the Covid-19 pandemic and the meeting will revert to a virtual Interim Meeting if required.

Online Fraud Group taken down in coordinated Police Action

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.

Overall results:

  • 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.

Criminal Network

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.

EFECCCross 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.

EAST EPTF

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.

Moroccan police arrest suspected cybercriminal after INTERPOL probe

An alleged prolific cybercriminal has been apprehended in Morocco following a joint two-year investigation by INTERPOL, the Moroccan police and Group-IB.  Acting under the signature name of ‘Dr Hex’, the suspect is believed to have targeted thousands of unsuspecting victims over several years through global phishing, fraud, and carding activities involving credit card fraud.  He is also accused of defacing numerous websites by modifying their appearance and content, and targeting French-speaking communications companies, multiple banks and multinational companies with malware campaigns, and is alleged to have helped develop carding and phishing kits, which were then sold to other individuals through online forums to allow them to facilitate similar malicious campaigns against victims.  These were then used to impersonate online banking facilities, allowing the suspect and others to steal sensitive information and defraud trusting individuals for financial gain – the losses of individuals and companies were then published online in order to advertise these malicious services.

Under Operation Lyrebird, INTERPOL’s Cybercrime Directorate worked closely with Group-IB and with Moroccan Police, via the INTERPOL National Central Bureau, in Rabat to eventually locate and apprehend the individual, who remains under investigation.  INTERPOL Executive Director of Police Services Stephen Kavanagh said: “This is a significant success against a suspect who is accused of targeting unsuspecting individuals and companies across multiple regions for years, and the case highlights the threat posed by cybercrime worldwide. The arrest of this suspect is down to outstanding international investigative work and new ways of collaboration both with Moroccan police and our vital private sector partners such as Group-IB.”

Group-IB determined that the suspect was involved in attacks on 134 websites from 2009-2018, leaving behind his signature name on web pages.  Its participation in the operation came under Project Gateway, an initiative which facilitates cooperation and information sharing between INTERPOL and private sector partners.

In May 2021 INTERPOL launched a new cyber operations desk to boost the capacity of 49 African countries to fight cybercrime. The Africa desk will help shape a regional strategy to drive intelligence-led coordinated actions against cybercriminals and support joint operations such as Lyrebird.

At a time of increasing cyber threats, members of the public, businesses and organisations are reminded to protect themselves from phishing attempts by following the advice showcased in INTERPOL’s #WashYourCyberHands and #OnlineCrimeIsRealCrime campaigns.

The EAST Payments Task Force (EPTF), which meets three times each year, focuses on the prevention of payment and transaction fraud.

National & Global Fraud Intelligence sharing – 4th Interim EAST Meeting

A fourth Interim Meeting of EAST National and Global Members took place on Wednesday 9th June 2021. Due to the Covid-19 situation, it was conducted as a virtual meeting. The meeting was chaired by Graham Mott from the LINK Scheme.  The key focus was on the sharing of global, regional, and national, payment and terminal fraud intelligence.

Law enforcement overviews were provided by Europol, the Gulf Cooperation Council Police (GCCPOL), the United States Secret Service (USSS) and INTERPOL.  Two presentations were made by Europol: one from the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) covered recent successful cross-border operations; the other covered Physical ATM attacks across Europe.  The GCCPOL presentation covered payment and fraud issues seen by their 6 member countries focussing on Technological Fraud (crimes committed using different forms/types of machines and technology) and Non-Technological Fraud (conducted directly against the victim. The USSS presentation covered US Fraud Trends (2020/2021), along with prevention/detection techniques, and the INTERPOL presentation covered recent issues relating to financial crimes, money laundering, and asset tracing.

Private sector fraud intelligence updates were received from 31 countries, either directly or via regional/global updates by Citi, HSBC and Worldline.  Each update covered Fraud Types, Fraud Origin, Due Diligence and Physical Attacks (ATM, ATS and CIT).  A key issue, highlighted by most of the countries, continues to be the importance of raising consumer awareness to counter the rising threats related to social engineering.

EAST Fraud Update 2-2021 will be produced during July, based on the country updates provided at the Interim EAST Meeting.  EAST Fraud, Payment and Physical Attack Updates are available on the EAST Intranet to EAST Members.

The next meeting of this group, scheduled for 6th October 2021, will also be a virtual Interim meeting.  The 1st EAST Global Congress is now scheduled to be held in February 2022, dependant on the prevailing status of the Covid-19 pandemic.

3rd Interim EAST Meeting – National and Global Members

A third Interim Meeting of EAST National and Global Members took place on Wednesday 10th February 2021. Due to the Covid-19 situation, it was conducted as a virtual meeting. The meeting was chaired by Martine Hemmerijckx from Worldline.

Law enforcement overviews were provided by Europol and the Gulf Cooperation Council Police (GCCPOL).  Two presentations were made by Europol: one from the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) covered recent successful cross-border operations; the other covered Physical ATM attacks across Europe.  The GCCPOL presentation covered payment and fraud issues seen by their 6 member countries – it focussed on Technological Fraud (crimes committed using different forms/types of machines and technology) and Non-Technological Fraud (conducted directly against the victim).

Updates were received from 26 countries, either directly or via a global update by Worldline.  Each update covered Fraud Types, Fraud Origin, Due Diligence and Physical Attacks (ATM, ATS and CIT).  A key issue, highlighted by most of the countries, is the importance of raising consumer awareness to counter the rising threats related to social engineering.

EAST Fraud Update 1-2021 will be produced during March, based on the country updates provided at the Interim EAST Meeting.  EAST Fraud, Payment and Physical Attack Updates are available on the EAST Intranet to EAST Members.

The next meeting of this group, scheduled for 9th June 2021, will also be a virtual Interim meeting.  The 1st EAST Global Congress is now scheduled to be held in October 2021, dependant on the prevailing status of the Covid-19 pandemic.

IOCTA 2020 Published by Europol

IOCTA 2020Europol has published its Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment for 2020 (IOCTA 2020).   This highlights the dynamic and evolving threats from cybercrime and provides a unique law enforcement focused assessment of emerging challenges and key developments in the space.  The data collection for the IOCTA 2020 took place during the lockdown implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Indeed, the pandemic prompted significant change and criminal innovation in the area of cybercrime.  Criminals devised both new modi operandi and adapted existing ones to exploit the situation, new attack vectors and new groups of victims.

So much has changed since Europol published last year’s IOCTA. The global  pandemic forced the reimagination of our societies and the reinvention of the way we work and live.  During the lockdown, people turned to the Internet for a sense of normality: shopping, working and learning online at a scale never seen before.  The IOCTA 2020 seeks to map the evolving cybercrime threat landscape and understand how law enforcement responds to it.  Although the COVID-19 crisis has shown how criminals actively take advantage of society at its most vulnerable, this opportunistic behaviour should not overshadow the overall threat landscape. In many cases, COVID-19 has enhanced existing problems, some of which are shown below:

CROSS-CUTTING CRIME

  • Social engineering and phishing remain an effective threat to enable other types of cybercrime.  Criminals use innovative methods to increase the volume and sophistication of their attacks, and inexperienced cybercriminals can carry out phishing campaigns more easily through crime as-a-service.  Criminals quickly exploited the pandemic to attack vulnerable people; phishing, online scams and the spread of fake news became an ideal strategy for cybercriminals seeking to sell items they claim will prevent or cure COVID-19.
  • Encryption continues to be a clear feature of an increasing number of services and tools.  One of the principal challenges for law enforcement is how to access and gather relevant data for criminal investigations.  The value of being able to access data of criminal communication on an encrypted network is perhaps the most effective illustration of how encrypted data can provide law enforcement with crucial leads beyond the area of cybercrime.

MALWARE REIGNS SUPREME

  • Ransomware attacks have become more sophisticated, targeting specific organisations in the public and private sector through victim reconnaissance.  While the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an increase in cybercrime, ransomware attacks were targeting the healthcare industry long before the crisis. Moreover, criminals have included another layer to their ransomware attacks by threatening to auction off the comprised data, increasing the pressure on the victims to pay the ransom.  Advanced forms of malware are a top threat in the EU: criminals have transformed some traditional banking Trojans into modular malware to cover more PC digital fingerprints, which are later sold for different needs.

PAYMENT FRAUD: SIM SWAPPING A NEW TREND

  • SIM swapping, which allows perpetrators to take over accounts, is one of the new trends in IOCTA 2020.  As a type of account takeover, SIM swapping provides criminals access to sensitive user accounts.  Criminals fraudulently swap or port victims’ SIMs to one in the criminals’ possession in order to intercept the one-time password step of the authentication process.

CRIMINAL ABUSE OF THE DARK WEB

  • In 2019 and early 2020 there was a high level of volatility on the dark web. The lifecycle of dark web market places has shortened and there is no clear dominant market that has risen over the past year. Tor remains the preferred infrastructure, however criminals have started to use other privacy-focused, decentralised marketplace platforms to sell their illegal goods. Although this is not a new phenomenon, these sorts of platforms have started to increase over the last year. OpenBazaar is noteworthy, as certain threats have emerged on the platform over the past year such as COVID-19-related items during the pandemic.