The Spanish National Police and the Police of Romania, with the participation of Europol and Eurojust, have dismantled a ‘multinational fraud’ operation that swindled more than eight million euros through sophisticated social engineering techniques. The person responsible for the network was based in the province of Valencia. The organization defrauded public administrations and individuals.
Between April 23 and 25 a joint police operation was carried out between Spain and Romania, which resulted in the arrest of 14 people in Spain and five in Romania. These arrests added to the 14 that had been carried out throughout the investigation, raise the total number of arrested to 33.
The investigation began in early 2017 after analyzing several complaints about scams presented in different parts of Spain that followed a similar pattern.
In Spain, the members of the organisation opened nearly 700 bank accounts, although there is another large number of accounts abroad where they transferred most of the defrauded money.
Almost all of the funds obtained from the proceeds of money cheated in fraudulent bank accounts opened in Spain were transferred abroad, mainly Germany, the Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Italy and Poland. In other cases, the money was withdrawn in cash at Spanish ATMs.
The organisation had created several companies without any activity and put them in the name of frontmen. The scams targeted both public administrations and individuals. In the case of the former the scammers needed to know the contracts that the public entity had with the suppliers and companies that provided them with services.
With this information, they supplanted the identity of one of these companies with which they had a pending payment and they told him that they had changed their account number.
Subsequently, they sent all the corresponding and necessary counterfeit bank documents to the public entity where the alleged change of account of the supplier company was certified. In this way the entity made the payment of the invoice for the service provided in an account of the organisation opened by a ‘mule’ without any of those affected being aware of the deception.
The scams against individuals were committed online and followed different patterns, including phishing, online buying and selling scams and rent scams.
Europol supported this investigation by providing ongoing analytical and operational support and deploying a mobile office to assist the Spanish authorities with on-the-spot real time intelligence analysis which helped identify several transnational links.
Europol’s Head of the European Serious Organised Crime Centre, Jari Liukku said:
“Social engineering-based fraud remains one of the most significant transnational crime threats to European Union citizens, as well as to private and public sector organisations. Billions in criminal profit are made every year by international organised crime groups in what is considered to be the second biggest source of criminal proceeds after drug trafficking. Internationally coordinated investigations, like operation Valcea-Cruces, are a clear indicator of what can be achieved when European Union law enforcement agencies work together with the support of Europol and Eurojust. Nevertheless, despite the various efforts made, the threat of social engineering fraud remains high.”