Europol nabs 106 criminals involved in SIM swapping, money laundering

Europol said that the suspects carried out a number of cybercrimes included phishing, SIM Swapping, and BEC (business email compromise.) 

The Europol, European Union’s law enforcement agency, announced on Monday that they arrested 106 individuals and seized their assets over their involvement in high-profile cyber and physical crimes. The arrests were made in Italy and Spain.

According to Europol, the operation was supported by the Italian Polizia di Stato (Italian national police) The Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional), and as well as Eurojust.

The agency announced that these arrests occurred as a result of an international investigation into an organized crime group linked to the Italian mafia involved in cybercrime, drug trafficking, money laundering, and property-related crime.

Most of the suspected members are Italian nationals, some of whom have links to mafia organizations, Europol has confirmed.

From Italian mafia to online crooks

The agency revealed that the suspects carried out a number of cybercrimes by scamming hundreds of victims. These scams included  phishing, SIM Swapping, and BEC (business email compromise.) 

The suspects stole money from victims and used shell companies to launder it. In 2020, their illicit profit was €10 million ($12,000,000 – £8,588,006), Europol revealed.

Seized Assets

According to Europol’s press release, authorities searched 16 hours in Spain and Italy and managed to seize 118 bank accounts. Additionally, 224 credit cards, point-of-sale (PoS) terminals, SIM cards, and marijuana plantation and equipment were also seized.

“This large criminal network was very well organized in a pyramid structure, which included different specialized areas and roles. Among the members of the criminal group were computer experts, who created the phishing domains and carried out the cyber fraud; recruiters and organizers of the money muling; and money laundering experts, including experts in cryptocurrencies,” the press release said.

Watch as authorities raid houses and arrest suspects:

What is SIM Swapping?

For your information, SIM swapping is also known as SIM Hijacking. It is a kind of identity theft in which an attacker manages to create a new SIM card of any number fraudulently and use it for personal gains, without the knowledge or consent of the original user of the phone number.

To get the duplicate SIM card, the attacker usually calls the telecom firm and convinces their customer support service for being the actual owner of the phone number by providing the target’s personal information. Thus, the telecom firm ports the phone number to a new SIM card that is received by the attacker.

What is a BEC attack?

BEC which is also known as “cyber-enabled financial fraud attacks” is part of a sophisticated scam in which cybercriminals target companies or employees dealing with finance and perform regular wire transfer payments.

In the second phase of the attack, cybercriminals attempt to get their hands on the email addresses of these employees and impersonate as a business partner or key employee and send fraudulent requests for checks rather than wire transfers.

In 2017, a US Judge was tricked into sending $1 million to a bank account in China. In the scam, cybercriminals pretended to be her lawyer asking to send money to a bank account. Following the instruction, she wired $1,057,500 to the bank account in China rather than her lawyer.

In another incident, Google and Facebook were also tricked by a Lithuanian man who was impersonating an employee of a famous Asian company. The scammer was using phishing emails to collect the details of wire transactions and other relevant details just to make his case more believable – In the end, he scammed both companies with $100 million.

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