Security Experts:

Police Bust Australia's Biggest Credit Card Scam

SYDNEY - Australian police said Thursday they had uncovered the country's biggest ever credit card data theft and smashed a Romanian syndicate allegedly behind the scam.

An international investigation saw seven people charged in Romania with stealing the details of about 30,000 credit cards and using the information to buy goods around the world worth some Aus$30 million (US$31 million).

Police reported that the data was stolen by hacking into the computer systems of around 100 small Australian retailers.

It was then used to create false credit cards, enabling thousands of counterfeit transactions in numerous locations including Europe, Hong Kong and the United States.

The investigation was sparked when an Australian financial institution alerted police to suspicious credit card transactions and the probe grew to involve law enforcement agencies in 13 countries.

The scam culminated in 16 people being detained in raids on 26 properties across Romania on Wednesday, with seven charged.

Reports in Australia said that an international wrestling champion, Gheorghe "The Carpathian Bear" Ignat, was among those held but later released.

"This is the largest data breach investigation ever undertaken by Australian law enforcement," said Commander Glen McEwen, manager for Cyber Crime Operations at the Australian Federal Police.

"Without the cooperation of 13 other countries, along with Australia's banking and finance sector, we would not have been able to track these illegal transactions to the criminal network in Romania.

"Today's successful outcome is a culmination of 17 months of hard work with these partners."

Australian banks and credit unions have reimbursed customers for their losses.