A joint operation between Europol and Spanish police has resulted in the arrest of a serious cyber criminal group working in Barcelona.
The operation, codenamed Walker, dismantled an illegal call centre used to make fraudulent phone calls to premium numbers, causing up to €2m in criminal damage from illegal operations to date.
Law enforcement agents searched six premises and arrested nine suspects, finding more than €10,000 in cash during the raid.
They also seized over 100 mobiles phones, stolen SIM cards, credit cards and computer equipment.
Analysing thousands of financial transactions across numerous jurisdictions allowed Spanish police to reconstruct money flows of the criminal group, which boasted a network of accomplices operating destination bank accounts overseas.
"The group was involved in receiving mobile phones stolen from tourists in Spain, then harvesting and misusing the foreign mobile numbers (until they were blocked by the telecom operators in their countries), before sending the money earned abroad," said Europol.
"The criminals made fraudulent phone calls to premium service numbers set up and managed by other members of the criminal group based outside the EU."
Europol was part of an inter-agency operation earlier this year that took down a criminal group running a financial fraud operation using phishing attacks. This operation led to 49 arrests in Italy, Spain, Poland, the UK and Belgium.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau warned last year about this form of fraud, which is said to have an estimated income of up to €45m globally.
"Victims are approached via online dating websites, messenger services and social media sites. The fraudsters will engage via these websites before providing the victim with their telephone number so they can have a verbal conversation," reported Action Fraud.
"The victim will often engage in multiple conversations before realising this is a fraud. These conversations result in large phone bills and the victim only becomes aware of the fraud when they receive their telephone bill and are liable for the charges."
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