Europol: 23 suspects arrested for commercial fraud by email involving COVID-19 equipment

The public authorities of Romania, the Netherlands and Ireland have discovered a sophisticated fraud scheme involving emails and fraudulent advance payment transactions, in an operation coordinated by Europol.

On 10 August, 23 suspects were arrested in a series of operations carried out simultaneously in the Netherlands, in Romania and in Ireland. Raids were carried out at a total of 34 different addresses. It is believed that the alleged criminals concerned have defrauded companies in at least 20 countries for a sum of approximately one million euros.

The fraud was directed by an organised crime group which before the COVID-19 pandemic was already offering other fictional products, such as wooden pallets, for sale online.  Last year the criminals changed their modus operandi and started to offer protective equipment after the pandemic had broken out.

This criminal group, trained by nationals of various African countries living in Europe, created false email addresses and websites similar to those of legitimate companies operating in the wholesale trade. Passing themselves off as the companies concerned, the criminals are thought to have persuaded the victims, mainly European and Asiatic companies, to issue orders and to have requested advance payments so that the goods could be sent to them.

However the goods requested were never delivered, and the funds collected were siphoned off via money-laundering operations into Romanian bank accounts controlled by the criminals, before being withdrawn from automatic cash dispensers.

Since the operations began in 2017, Europol has provided support for this case through the following actions:

• Bringing together investigators from all the national police forces that have collaborated closely with Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) to prepare for the day of the operation.

• Providing continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators.

• Deploying two of its experts in cybercrime in the operations in the Netherlands to provide support to the Dutch authorities for the real-time cross-checking of information and search for the corresponding evidence during the course of the operation. 

Eurojust coordinated judicial cooperation in relation to the investigations and provided support by implementing various instruments of judicial cooperation.

This action was carried out within the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).

The following police authorities participated in the action:

• Romania: National Police (Poliția Română)

• The Netherlands: National Police (Politie)

• Ireland: National Police (An Garda Síochána)

• Europol: European Cybercrime Centre (EC3)


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