Eight people have been arrested as part of an investigation into an organised crime gang thought to be one of the largest online vendors of counterfeit euros on the continent, Europol has revealed.
The EU’s law enforcement agency supported Italy’s Guardia di Finanza – a military police unit responsible for dealing with smuggling and financial crime – during an operation that resulted in the detention of the suspects, who included the group’s leader.
Police in Italy said the gang sold fake euros in various denominations at a 30% discount on their face value. Taking payment for the notes in Bitcoins after marketing them on dark websites, the gang is thought to have banked over €160,000 in the cryptocurrency, which it then sold on to a specialist exchanger in Malta.
According to Europol, the head of the gang operated various profiles on different dark web market places, working with accomplices from the Naples region.
Europol Deputy Director Operations Wil van Gemert commented: “This operation is an excellent example of how law enforcement cooperation and effective information exchange are vital for tackling this crime.
“The hidden services of the dark net and Bitcoin payments can give sellers and buyers a false sense of anonymity. However, Europol and its partners are committed to investigating the ‘shadow’ trade in illegal commodities, and to ensuring that these criminals are brought to justice.”
Europol said it has been assisting Italian authorities with the probe since 2015, providing operational support and coordinating input from law enforcement agencies from countries including Austria, France, Germany, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands.
According to intelligence gathered by Europol, a rising number of currency counterfeiters are using dark web marketplaces to sell their products, along with drugs, firearms, stole credit card data and a range of other illegal goods and services.
Back in September, Europol, Interpol and the Basel Institute on Governance announced a working group on money laundering facilitated by cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The partnership aims to exchange information on the use of digital currencies as a means of money laundering, and the investigation and recovery of proceeds of crime stored in them.
“There is a clear consensus that digital currencies pose a money laundering and terrorism financing threat,” the groups said in a joint statement.
“A small number of cases have already shown law enforcement agencies that money laundering and terrorism financing can easily take place inside virtual environments, offering high levels of anonymity and low levels of detection, removing many of the risks associated with real-world money laundering and terrorism financing activities.”
Last month, Europol started looking for interns with skills that could be applied to analysing Bitcoin transactions. According to a job description posted on the agency’s website, applicants would need an “elementary understanding of tracing and attribution of Bitcoin transactions and proven interest in blockchain technologies”.