At the end of May, a 27-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman were arrested in Ireland on suspicion of bill fraud and money laundering. For the latter, the suspects used money mules. The Irish investigative team says it has found evidence of a criminal organization that was involved in BEC fraud worldwide.
The police announced this in a press release.
Cyber criminals worked from Dublin
It all started in April 2020 when a port company from Rotterdam filed a report with the Business Email Compromise (BEC) police. This is a type of fraud where scammers try to trick unsuspecting victims via email. For example, they pose as the CEO or financial chief of a company and say that there is still an invoice to pay. To do this, they hack an existing account or create one that resembles the real email address.
The unnamed port authority submitted the findings of its own investigation into the BEC fraud with the declaration. It turned out that it had been defrauded “for a substantial amount”. The money that the company paid turned out to have been funnelled abroad through various accounts.
The cybercrime team discovered that the emails had been sent from Dublin. The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) was then called in to help. That’s the fraud department of the Irish Police. The Dutch and Irish police jointly managed to find out the exact location from which the e-mails were sent. The Irish police were then given permission to search the house in May 2020.
Research was the starting signal for Operation SKEIN
During the search, several mobile phones and storage devices were seized. The Irish police also found financial data, as well as evidence that the suspects were recruiting money mules or money mules. These are people – usually vulnerable young people – who make their bank accounts and debit card available to criminals, in exchange for a part of the proceeds.
Finally, police found evidence pointing to several other crimes, including money laundering, bill fraud, dating fraud, smishing scams (also known as SMS phishing ) and forgery of passports and IDs. The evidence shows that the Dutch port authority is only one of the many victims. The suspects made victims all over the world.
The cybercrime team of the Rotterdam police investigated the seized data carriers. It soon became apparent that the suspects were not operating alone, but were part of a large criminal network. That was the starting point for a major international investigation, called Operation SKEIN.
‘Collaboration was invaluable’
To date, 203 suspects have been arrested in Ireland. Among them are a large number of money mules who have moved from abroad to Ireland to open a bank account here to launder the criminally obtained money. 54 suspects are suspected of being members of a criminal organization. The other 149 have been arrested on suspicion of money laundering.
In addition to the Dutch cybercrime team and the Irish police, Eurojust, Europol and Interpol also contributed to the investigation. “This collaboration proved to be invaluable,” the police said.
“This research shows that when police forces work together to tackle global criminal organizations, great success is achieved in taking them down. It shows how big the problem is when it comes to cybercrime and that these organizations know no boundaries.”
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