Approximately 3,000 European Union citizens fell victim to an international criminal network of payment card fraudsters before law enforcement agencies managed to take it down.
The takedown operation resulted in the arrest of 31 suspects, (21 in Spain, 9 in Bulgaria and one in the Czech Republic), and in 48 house searches (14 in Spain and 34 in Bulgaria). Equipment used to forge payment cards, payment card data readers-recorders, skimmers, micro cameras, devices designed to manipulate ATMs, cash, and numerous counterfeit cards were found in suspects’ possession.
The operation was carried out by Central Investigating Judge number 5, the Public Prosecution Office at the Audiencia Nacional and National Police of Spain, and the General Directorate Combating Organized Crime in Bulgaria, with the support of Eurojust and Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3).
As part of their fraudulent activity, the criminals installed skimming devices on an average of 400 ATMs every year, between 2014 and 2017, which allowed them to copy and clone bank cards, Europol says. The fake cards were then used to perform illegal transactions outside the European Union.
The criminals used the cards in 200 ATMs located mainly in the USA, the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Peru, the Philippines and Costa Rica. Around 3,000 people were affected by the fraudulent activity, which resulted in total losses of at least 500,000 Euro.
During the investigation, Eurojust provided coordination among authorities in Spain and Bulgaria, while Europol offered tailored intelligence analysis and expertise and also deployed mobile offices on the spot in both countries. Eurojust and Europol also assisted the joint investigation team (JIT) that was set up between the cooperating countries.
“This successful operation confirms Eurojust’s commitment to protect the assets of EU citizens from falling into the hands of cyber fraudsters. 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,” Francisco Jiménez-Villarejo, National Member for Spain at Eurojust, said.