Criminal charges for Covid-19 fraudsters
August 2021: A sophisticated fraud scheme using compromised emails and advance-payment fraud has been uncovered by authorities in Romania, the Netherlands and Ireland as part of an action co-ordinated by Europol. These criminals are believed to have defrauded companies in at least 20 countries of approximately €1 million, according to Europol.
On August 10, 23 suspects were charged after a series of raids was carried out simultaneously in the Netherlands, Romania and Ireland.
The fraud was run by an organised crime group which, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, was illegally offering fictitious products for sale online. Last year, after the outbreak of the pandemic, the criminals changed their modus operandi and started offering protective materials.
This criminal group, which is said to be composed of nationals from different African countries residing in Europe, created fake email addresses and webpages similar to the ones belonging to legitimate wholesale companies. Impersonating these companies, these criminals would then trick the victims – mainly European and Asian companies, into placing orders, requesting payments in advance. The delivery of the goods never took place, and the proceeds were laundered through Romanian bank accounts before being withdrawn at ATMs.
Europol says it has been supporting this case since its onset in 2017 by:
Bringing together the national investigators on all sides who have seen been working closely with Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) to prepare for the action day;
Providing continuous intelligence development and analysis to support field investigators;
Deploying two of its cybercrime experts to the raids in the Netherlands to support the Dutch authorities with cross-checking, in real-time, information gathered during the operation and with securing relevant evidence.
Eurojust co-ordinated the judicial co-operation in view of the searches and provided support with the execution of several judicial cooperation instruments. This action was carried out in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).