Romanian and Italian police – with the support of Europol, its Joint Task Force on computer crimes (J-CAT) and Eurojust – have arrested 20 suspected hackers in a series of coordinated raids on Wednesday. Nine people have been picked up in Romania and 11 in Italy.
The accused are wanted for bank fraud to the value of about 1 million euro carried out against hundreds of customers and two credit institutions. More than 100 agents were involved. The criminals used the technique of spear phishing, or sending fraudulent emails to targeted users with content that makes them appear to come from reliable sources. This encourages users to click on links that lead to false versions of websites, which they then try to access, thus providing their account data.
Specifically, the criminal organisation impersonated tax authorities to collect the online banking credentials of their victims.
The Italian-Romanian investigation, launched in 2016, revealed how cyber criminals used stolen online credentials to surreptitiously transfer money from the accounts of the victims to others under their control. From there, they collected money from ATMs in Romania with linked credit and debit cards. Moreover, they consolidated their power by intimidating affiliates and competitors.
The operation was also possible thanks to the contribution of Europol and Eurojust. In a statement, Europol said: “During the investigation, Eurojust secured close contacts and coordination between the judicial and investigative authorities in Italy and Romania. Europol supported the case, providing intelligence analysis and skills tailored to investigators. Several coordination and operational meetings took place at Eurojust and Europol prior to the operation. Because of the demanding investigative measures conducted at international level, a joint investigation team (JIT) was established among the cooperating countries. This with the assistance of Eurojust and Europol.”
The hackers are also suspected of money laundering, drug and human trafficking, prostitution and participation in a criminal organisation.