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An international criminal network of payment card fraudsters ended up taken down with the help of a European cross-border police investigation, officials said.

Thirty-one suspects ended up arrested (21 in Spain, 9 in Bulgaria and one in the Czech Republic) and 48 house searches (14 in Spain and 34 in Bulgaria) were carried out, officials said.

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During the searches, police said they took custody of equipment used to forge payment cards, payment card data readers-recorders, skimmers, micro cameras, devices to manipulate ATMs, as well as cash and numerous counterfeit cards.

Between 2014 and 2017, police said the network installed skimming devices on an average of 400 ATMs every year, to copy and clone the data contained on the bank cards.

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Those forged cards were then used to make illegal transactions in 200 ATMs outside the European Union, mainly in the U.S., the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Peru, the Philippines and Costa Rica. Police said 3,000 EU citizens fell victim to the network, with losses of at least $560,525.

“Police forces in the EU are utilizing Europol’s unique tools to ensure that electronic payment transactions are made safer. We are continuously investing more resources into this vital support platform, and now we are seeing the results of this essential work,” said Steven Wilson, head of EC3 at Europol.

During the investigation, Eurojust ensured close contacts and coordination among the prosecuting and investigating authorities in Spain and Bulgaria. Europol supported the case by providing tailored intelligence analysis and expertise to the investigators and deploying mobile offices on the spot to Spain and Bulgaria. Several coordination and operational meetings took place prior to the action at Eurojust and Europol. Due to the investigative measures run on an international level, a joint investigation team (JIT) was set up between the cooperating countries with the assistance of Eurojust and Europol.

“This successful operation confirms Eurojust’s commitment to protect the assets of EU citizens from falling into the hands of cyber fraudsters,” said Francisco Jiménez-Villarejo, National Member for Spain at Eurojust. “An entire criminal network was taken down and, as a result, is no longer able to defraud innocent victims, thanks to the joint efforts of the Spanish and Bulgarian prosecuting authorities, and the valuable support provided by their National Desks at Eurojust.”

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