Police in Romania have broken up a major fraud, forgery and money laundering gang thought to have conned hundreds of people out of millions of euros.
In cooperation with Europol and judicial cooperation agency Eurojust, officers from the Romanian Territorial Office Valcea of the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) raided 64 properties as part of the operation, which resulted in the arrest of 12 people.
Europol said the organised crime group worked on three levels, with one tier recruiting both Romanian and foreign citizens to open fake bank accounts, a second concentrating on offering non-existent goods for sale on the internet and persuading buyers to send money before receiving their goods, and a third opening accounts through which the gang could launder its ill-gotten gains.
In all, prosecutors suspect the group – which police say was set up in April 2015 and consisted of 74 people – opened some 230 bank accounts overseas and as many as 120 in Romania. A number of police forces from countries around Europe contributed to the operation that disputed the gang’s activities, including officers from Hungary, Italy, Germany and Poland.
Members of the group are thought to have stolen €4.5 million from around 1,000 victims, Europol said in a statement.
A team from Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) contributed to the investigation from its early stages, and supported officers carrying out the raids from a special mobile office equipped with technology to help sift through electronic evidence. Much of the gang’s criminal activity was carried out online.
The suspects detained in the raids are expected to face a range of charges, including money laundering and cyber crime offences.
News of the arrests came just one week after Europol launched a separate crackdown on credit card fraud in Romania. Officers from the law enforcement agency swooped on properties in 18 locations around the country, seizing computer equipment, smartphones, other electronic devices and around €52,000 in cash. Seven arrests were made as a result of the operation.
An illegal factory that made ATM skimming devices was raided in the northwest of the country as part of the investigation. The gang behind the racket fitted the devices made at the site to cash machines and self-service fuel pumps in various countries around Europe.
The skimmers recorded data from the magnetic strip on the back of credit cards, allowing the gang to produce illegal fakes which they then used to withdraw cash from ATMs in countries such as Nepal, Taiwan, the Philippines and the US. Police said as many as 47 other people may have been involved in the scam. Those arrested are accused of a range of offences including money laundering and fraudulent financial transactions.