A joint law enforcement operation supported by 19 countries led to the arrest of 60 fraud suspects. The main aim of the e-Commerce action (eComm 2019) was to target criminal networks suspected of online fraud through coordinated law enforcement actions within the European Union. An awareness-raising campaign followed the operation.
The process was coordinated by Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and received direct assistance from national law enforcement authorities and the private sector.
E-commerce fraud includes illegal or false transactions made on online platforms, apps, and services provided over the internet. Fraudsters simply use stolen credit card details to make purchases from webshops.
The suspects arrested during the operation, which took place at the beginning of October 2019, were responsible for almost 6,500 fraudulent transactions with compromised credit cards, with an estimated value of more than €5 million.
Europol assisted the competent national authorities during the operations in their respective countries with analytical support and information sharing. In order to protect customers from fraudulent payments and ensure a safe online environment, Europol also collaborated with banks, credit card providers, European retailers and logistics companies.
The investigative measures revealed that individual fraudsters are connected to organised crime groups and are often involved in other types of crime such as phishing, malware attacks, using stolen passports, money laundering, creating fake websites and using online social platforms for fraudulent purposes.
This year has seen an increase in the number of fraudulent purchases of online services, rather than of physical goods: the virtual dimension of this crime makes it very hard to investigate. Fraudulent purchases of entry tickets, subscriptions and rentals are all carried out online and even via apps.
Some investigations showed that fraudulently booked railway tickets (purchased with stolen credit card details) are sold on to third parties who might then use them to commit other crimes and offences.
In this instance, more than 1,000 fraudulent bookings, amounting to a financial loss of around €70,000, were identified. Another modus operandi is to buy vouchers with stolen credit cards and later have them reimbursed to another method of payment.
Websites and social network accounts are often used to create fake online shops or purchase electronic goods. The suspects’ global turnover could be billions of Euros every year. The fraudsters use stolen credit card details, obtained through the darknet, or via malware and phishing attacks, to buy products.
It’s always better to prevent a crime than to have to solve it. The operation was followed by a prevention and awareness-raising campaign entitled #BuySafePaySafe. There are a number of guidelines you can follow to protect yourself from fraud:
- Make sure the device you use to make online purchases is correctly configured and that the internet connection is secure.
- Using a card is a safe online payment method so long as you take the same precautions you would with other types of shopping.
- There are simple warning signs that can help you identify scams. If you are a victim of online fraud, report it to the police. If you have brought the product with a credit or debit card, inform your bank as well.
- Check your online banking services regularly.