Europol Busts International E-Commerce Fraud Gang

According to the European Police Office, (Europol), 95 suspected fraudsters were arrested in this year’s e-Commerce action. The 2018 e-Commerce action took place from June 4 to 15 and was a joint law enforcement operation between 28 countries from across the globe, coordinated by Europol’s European cybercrime center. A June 19 Europol press release stated that the suspects arrested included members of dark-web criminal organizations. The operation was aimed at tackling online fraud by law enforcement as well as raise awareness on the issue.

This year’s action had nearly 200 private partners, collaborating with law enforcement to undertake the operation and was coordinated by the European Cybercrime Centre from Europol’s headquarters in The Hague. It also had direct help from logistics firms, bank and payment card schemes and merchants, with Europol again by providing analytical services to the various national authorities on the spot.

The action tackles card-not-present fraud and aims at a more secure online condition for customers across the globe by sharing data and creating procedures between law enforcement and the private sector. Police in their individual nations collaborated with merchants, logistics firms, analytical institutions and financial firms to find concrete evidence of professional fraud. The suspects captured during the operation were reportedly behind 20,000 fraudulent exchanges with hacked credit cards, racking in an amount of over 8 million EUR.

They did their businesses via the darknet which included buying of credit card and other compromised data and engaged in illegal activities ranging from malware attacks, phishing, and social media and website frauds, according to Europol. They usually offered quality items to clients for a huge discounted price and when their clients paid with their credit card, the details were then stolen and passed on to their members.

Investigating them wasn’t an easy task due to their professionalism and the fact that, not all of them acted individually, rather some were in highly organized crime groups. It took several months of planning and preparation before the police were finally able to strike. Over an 11 day period, police executed searches on more than 200 houses, of which nine were in the UK, made several arrests, deployed many surveillance teams, seized electronic devices such as mobile phones, credit card and data, cash, drugs and expensive clothes all of which were fraudulently acquired. Solid evidence supported the cases they built against the suspects all the way to their prosecution.

Glyn Whittick, head of the UK’s Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU), speaking after the bust stated that the rate of success Europol has achieved with these operations clearly indicates that working with their European counterparts, retailers, and the financial sector is something positive and important. He noted that additional investigations were ongoing and that the joint task force will continue to operate together and bring online criminals to justice.

According to him, fraudsters are now switching to social media to target people and people must be vigilant when online, by adhering to advice and keeping their private details safe. “We are cracking down on the criminal gangs targeting consumers online. People should remember when shopping online that if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is,” he added.

This e-Commerce action is the very first of many investigations expected to be carried out in the coming months.

Europol has already been in the news this year after a collaboration with the Spanish Police in March. The joint operation was able to bring down a Russian-Ukrainian cyber-crime gang which caused one billion in losses to more than a 100 financial institutions in 40 countries. The gang was engaged in malware and phishing attacks which they used to attack several banks and other financial institutions from 2013 to 2016. They had illegally gained access to internal banking networks as well as secured servers what controlled their various ATMs.

Europol again in April, came together with the UK’s National Crime Agency, the Dutch Police and other law enforcement agencies, of which they were able to shut down Webstresser.org, the then largest marketplace for DDoS attacks and services. The website had more than 136,000 registered users.