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106 arrests as police dismantle Mafia-linked online crime gang

Graham CLULEY

September 21, 2021

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106 arrests as police dismantle Mafia-linked online crime gang

106 people have been arrested, mostly in Spain and some in Italy, following a multi-national investigation into online fraud.

Police forces in Spain and Italy, assisted by Europol, arrested most of the alleged criminals last week on the Spanish island of Tenerife, as part of an operation dubbed "Fontana Almabahia".

16 houses were searched in a series of raids in the Spanish Canary Islands, especially Santa Cruz de Tenerife, as well as Turin and Isernia in Italy.

Some 118 bank accounts were frozen by the authorities, as computers and other electronic devices, hundreds of credit cards, SIM cards, and point-of-sale terminals were seized by investigators.

Police claim that they have dismantled an organised crime group with links to the Italian Mafia, involved in online fraud, money laundering, drug trafficking, and property crime.

Hundreds of victims are alleged to have been defrauded through phishing, SIM-swapping, and business email compromise (BEC) attacks orchestrated by the gang, with the illegally-obtained proceeds of the crime laundered through "a wide network of money mules and shell companies."

A press release from Europol estimates that the gang's activities illegally netted more than €10 million in profit last year alone.

From their base in Tenerife, the suspects are alleged to have tricked their victims into sending large amounts of money into bank accounts controlled by the gang.

The majority of the gang's victims were based in Italy, but English, German and Irish citizens were also targeted by the criminals, claim investigators.

Stolen funds were then said to have been reinvested in other criminal activities such as drugs, prostitution, and arms trafficking, or laundered through the purchase of cryptocurrency.

Italian police posted a video showing some of the house searches and arrests conducted by the "Fontana Almabahia" team.

With statistics released earlier this year by the FBI revealing that more than $4 billion worth of losses are caused by interent crime every year, and how business email compromise accounts for almost half of that figure, it should be no surprise to anyone that serious organised criminal gangs are behind many of the attacks.

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