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Gardai help Europol take down sophisticated international fraud scheme

A total of 23 suspects were detained in a series of raids carried out simultaneously in the Netherlands, Romania and Ireland

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Neil Fetherstonhaugh

Gardai have helped unravel a sophisticated international fraud scheme that has led to the arrest of 23 suspects in a series of raids across the Netherlands, Romania and Ireland.

Authorities in all three countries took down the network that was using compromised emails and advance-payment fraud as part of an operation coordinated by Europol.

On 10 August, 23 suspects were detained in a series of raids carried out simultaneously in the Netherlands, Romania and Ireland. In total, 34 places were searched.

Europol believes that these criminals have defrauded companies in at least 20 countries of approximately €1 million.

“The fraud was run by an organised crime group which prior to the Covid-19 pandemic already illegally offered other fictitious products for sale online, such as wooden pellets,” the agency said.

“Last year the criminals changed their modus operandi and started offering protective materials after the outbreak of the pandemic.”

This criminal group composed nationals from different African countries residing in Europe who created fake email addresses and webpages similar to the ones belonging to legitimate wholesale companies.

By impersonating these companies, the criminals would then trick the victims, mainly European and Asian companies, into placing orders with them and requesting the payments in advance in order for the goods to be sent.

However, the delivery of the goods never took place, and the proceeds were laundered through Romanian bank accounts controlled by the criminals before being withdrawn at ATMs.

The case that has been ongoing since 2017 saw Europol bring together national investigators on all sides to work with their European Cybercrime Centre.

They provided continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators and deployed two of its cybercrime experts to the raids in the Netherlands.

The operation was carried out in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) and involved the gardai as well as the Poliția Română and Netherlands National Police (Politie).

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