In a breakthrough that could influence the frequency of online fraud incidents across Europe in the coming days, German and Lithuanian authorities recently arrested fifteen people who are believed to be members of a cyber crime group that carried out more than 35,000 incidents of online fraud since 2012.
The cyber criminals were caught as a result of a five-year-long operation, dubbed Operation Warenagent, carried out by the German Prosecutor’s Office of Dresden, the Saxon State Office of Criminal Investigation, the Lithuanian Police and the Lithuanian Prosecutor's Office with assistance from Europol and Eurojust.
Massive credit card fraud
According to Europol, the cyber crime group inflicted losses worth EUR 18 million (£16 million) to organisations and individuals who became victims of their online fraud operations. Its members were well-spread out across Europe and were caught by authorities in Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
The modus operandi of the group involved its members using stolen or fraudulently-obtained credit card information to order high-quality goods from various mail order companies. These goods were then collected by mules hired by the cyber crime group who, in turn, sent the goods to new addresses, most of which were in Eastern Europe.
The extensive use of mules ensured that the group members carried out their online fraud activities for years without revealing their identity. They also hired their mules by disguising their requirements as legitimate job opportunities and by offering commissions.
"All the perpetrators used codenames and encrypted access in the network. Settling payments was carried out with the help of cryptocurrencies, which also played a major role in the investigation. Other criminals were responsible for providing IT infrastructure, recruiting package mules, coordinating criminal activity and laundering money," Europol said.
Expect more arrests in the coming months
The success of European law enforcement authorities and Europol comes just a month after Europol arrested as many as 95 fraudsters who carried out fraudulent transactions exceeding EUR 8 million (£7 million) by using stolen credit card details within the European Union (EU) and beyond.
Europol succeeded in nabbing the 95 criminals after teaming up with merchants, logistics firms, financial institutions and analytical companies to determine their identities.
"The main goal was to target online fraud through a coordinated law enforcement action within the European Union (EU) and beyond, followed by an awareness-raising campaign. This action also marks the start of several investigations with more arrests expected in the next few months," said Europol in a press release.
"The e-commerce action combats card-not-present fraud, aiming for a safer online environment for customers worldwide by sharing information and developing best practices between law enforcement and the private sector," it added.