Cybercrime: Europol busts Italian hacking group, seizes €10m worth of assets

*The European law enforcement operatives freeze 118 bank accounts, seize numerous electronic devices, point-of-sale terminals, SIM cards and 224 credit cards from criminals during the sting operation

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

For perpetrating cybercrimes and disrupting individuals’ lives and destabilising business operations, the European law enforcement operatives have dismantled a criminal group that made €10 million from cybercrime in 2020 alone.

ConsumerConnect learnt the multiple European law enforcement agencies’ operation Monday, September 20, 2021, led to more than a hundred arrests of members of an organised cybercrime group linked to the Italian Mob.

The criminal network has been reportedly involved in numerous types of crime, including “online fraud, money laundering, drug trafficking, and property crime,” reports CyberNews.

Sequel to the sting operation, Europol noted that the group scammed “hundreds” of victims by conducting online phishing campaigns, targeted SIM swapping attacks, and business email compromise scams.

The suspects then, laundered their illicit profits via a network of shell companies and money mules.

Report indicates the law enforcement operation, led by the Spanish National Police and supported by the Italian National Police, Europol, and Eurojust, resulted in 16 house searches and 106 arrests across Spain and Italy.

The operatives equally ensured the freezing of 118 bank accounts, as the police also seized numerous electronic devices, point-of-sale terminals, SIM cards, and 224 credit cards in the process.

Law enforcement officials also seized a marijuana plantation along with its cultivation equipment.

According to Europol in a statement, the criminal group was organised in a pyramid structure, and included specialists in their particular criminal fields.

It stated: “Among the members of the criminal group were computer experts, who created the phishing domains and carried out the cyberfraud; recruiters and organisers of the money muling; and money laundering experts, including experts in cryptocurrencies. Most of the suspected members are Italian nationals, some of whom have links to mafia organizations.”

It was gathered the criminal group’s base of operations was located on the island of Tenerife, where the suspects masterminded scam campaigns against their victims, most of whom were Italian nationals.

The victims were tricked into sending vast sums of money to bank accounts controlled by the criminal organisation, Europol said.

The stolen money was then laundered through “a wide network of money mules and shell companies,” the statement further noted.

In order to support the Spanish and Italian police officers during the operation, the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT) at Europol reportedly sent two analysts and a forensic expert to Tenerife, as well as an analyst to Italy.

The Spanish National Police also disclosed the group’s activities included violent crime, including kidnapping, as the criminal gang reportedly had committed two murders in Tenerife.

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