Europol has supported Italian Guardia di Finanza in an investigation targeting a criminal group considered to be one of the biggest vendors of counterfeit euro currency online. As a result, eight suspects were arrested, including the vendor and leader of the group. During the course of the investigation, several hundred counterfeit euro buyers were also identified.
Investigations revealed that the vendor was selling counterfeit 20, 50 and 100 euro notes on the Darknet for around 30% of their face value. Payments for the counterfeit banknotes were made using Bitcoin virtual currency. It is estimated that the group received over EUR 160 000 in Bitcoins, which then were sold to a specialised exchanger in Malta. The vendor, who had several profiles in different marketplaces, had accomplices from the Naples area.
Wil van Gemert, Europol's Deputy Director Operations, says: “This operation is an excellent example of how law enforcement cooperation and effective information exchange are vital for tackling this crime. The hidden services of the Darknet and Bitcoin payments can give sellers and buyers a false sense of anonymity. However, Europol and its partners are committed to investigating the “shadow” trade in illegal commodities, and to ensuring that these criminals are brought to justice.”
Europol supported Italian authorities with this investigation since January 2015 by providing operational analysis and by coordinating activities in different countries. Law enforcement authorities from Austria, France, Germany, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands also cooperated in the investigation by exchanging information and tracing the counterfeit euro buyers in their countries.
According to Europol’s intelligence, an increasing number of counterfeit currency producers are offering their products on the Darknet marketplaces, along with drugs and other illegal commodities.