Authorities say they have dismantled a cybercrime group involved in phishing and money laundering, and connected to the Italian mafia.
Police in Spain and Italy have arrested 106 people they say are part of “an organised crime group linked to the Italian mafia” which coordinated large-scale cybercrime operations.
The operation was led by the Spanish National Police and also involved the Italian National Police, Europol and Eurojust. Most of the arrests took place in Spain, in particular of Italian nationals living in the Canary Islands.
Authorities say that the organisation “defrauded hundreds of victims through phishing attacks and other types of online fraud” and laundered the proceeds “through a wide network of money mules and shell companies”.
Europol, which facilities co-operation between law enforcement in EU member countries, says that profits from the group’s fraud and other activities are estimated at about €10m annually.
As part of the operation, 18 houses were searched, 118 bank accounts were frozen, and items such as hundreds of credit cards, SIM cards and electronic equipment were seized.
Police say that the group was organised in a “pyramid structure” and used the purchase of cryptocurrencies as one of its methods of money laundering. Among the people involved in its activities are said to be a range of technical experts and people specialising in phishing and social engineering.
Authorities say victims of the fraud were mainly Italian too, but also Spanish, British, German and Irish.
As well as online fraud, police say that the group engaged in kidnapping, extortion, robbery and the growth and sale of cannabis. It was based out of Tenerife.
An Italian government report in late August said that the mafia is increasingly turning to online operations as a source of revenue an using cryptocurrency as a means of exchange, purchase and money laundering.
Europol’s Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT) supported the operation. The team was launched in 2014 and sees cyber liaison officers from several EU states and non-EU partner countries working together on cases. Ireland does not currently have a representative on J-CAT.
This month, a registry was launched to curb the prevalence of SMS phishing in Ireland.