Police shuts down scam operation that stole millions from hundreds of people

A police operation in Spain led to the arrest of 45 individuals accused of participating in a fraudulent scheme that would have defrauded more than 200 people. The fraud operators would have acted from an African country through individuals acting as mules, many of them even against their will and under threat of death.

This is the conclusion of a work of more than two years, since it was in June 2019 when the authorities detected this cybercriminal group, orchestrated from the Republic of Benin. The attackers acted mainly in Spain, Germany and France, where mules collected the cash and sent it to the fraud operators.

The scam began with the creation of a malicious website for the publication of advertisements offering technological articles at a very low cost and whose payment had to be made by bank transfers to the accomplices of the gang. Once a certain amount of money was collected, the mules took it to the fraud managers; more than 20 fraudulent websites were identified by hackers.

To complete the attack the criminals also had to obtain victims’ financial data, using this information to request credit cards that had to be sent to Benin. When these cards arrived in Africa, operators began withdrawing money from ATMs, leaving hundreds of victims in debt.

As mentioned above, many of those arrested were in this fraudulent scheme against their will, being threatened with deportation or even facing death threats. In some cases, the fraud operators made them sign supposed contracts to make them believe that this was a legitimate activity, taking advantage of people’s ignorance.

In another variant of the fraud, cybercriminals placed ads on various social networks offering the services of an alleged French financial firm. To approve loans, the alleged entrepreneurs argued that the target user should open an account and deliver between 500 and 1,000 Euros as an opening cost; the victim would never hear from this alleged loan company again.

So far, the Spanish authorities have received more than 200 complaints for this variant of fraud, so the authorities estimate that cybercriminals obtained about 1.5 million Euros. The 45 arrests were carried out by local police in multiple locations in Spain, and the government is collaborating with Interpol and Europol to track down others involved.

To learn more about information security risks, malware variants, vulnerabilities and information technologies, feel free to access the International Institute of Cyber Security (IICS) websites.