Intercontinental network of card fraudsters dismantled in Canada and Europe

05 November 2013
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A major intercontinental network of card fraudsters has been recently dismantled by cooperating Canadian, French and German police authorities, supported by Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3). The operation ‘Spyglass’ has so far resulted in the arrest of 29 people. The international criminal group was involved in the sophisticated manipulation of point-of-sale (POS) terminals in shopping centres across Europe and North America.

The final arrests on 29 October 2013 were handled by the Economic Crimes Unit of the Sûreté du Québec and took place in Montreal, Laval, Longueuil, Boucherville, Chambly and Magog, and led to the detention of 16 individuals, including the head of the criminal network from Boucherville (Montreal’s South Shore).

13 other arrests in this case took place in March 2013 in France (7) and Germany (6), with Europol’s support. Hundreds of police officers in the EU and Canada were involved in the operation.

Cooperation in the investigation was received from the Canadian Québec Police but also the Canadian Bankers Association, Fraud and Payment Brigade of the Regional Directorate of the Judicial Police of Paris (which initiated the investigations on this network in France), the Forensic Science Laboratory of the French Gendarmerie (which provided technical support), the German Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) and Europol, who provided support and operational coordination.

The network is alleged to have orchestrated fraud with a potential loss of EUR 9 million ($ 12 million) outside Canada. Criminals were able to compromise card data from at least 30 000 debit cards. Their method of operation was to tamper with POS terminals, which allowed fraudsters to intercept customer’s bank data without their knowledge. The data was then transferred throughout Quebec to be decrypted and re-routed abroad where counterfeit cards were made to exploit the stolen data connected to individual customer bank accounts. An average illegal withdrawal was around EUR 300 ($ 400) per counterfeit card.

Arrested suspects face numerous charges including fraud, unauthorised possession and illegal trafficking of credit card data, card counterfeiting, conspiracy, theft and possession of stolen property.

Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and the Canadian Liaison Bureau at Europol have been involved in the case since the beginning of investigative checks and arrests carried out in Europe in the first months of 2013. Analytical as well as technical support and advice were provided to the case by EC3 officers. Operation Spyglass (Project Lorgnette) was initiated in Canada in August 2012. The International Forensic Network set up by Europol was very important in facilitating the investigative measures and tracking down the suspects, due to the sophisticated techniques used by criminals tampering POS terminals. Europol will further support international law enforcement agencies to ensure the security of electronic payments in the EU.

The Head of the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), Troels Oerting, says: “This is another great example of very successful cooperation between law enforcement in several EU Member States, colleagues worldwide and in Canada, utilising Europol’s unique tools, whereby EC3 acted as a virtual and physical platform for the joint operation. We are continuously investing more resources into this vital support platform, and we can now see the result of the joint work, especially by also providing forensic cyber expertise from EC3 to these complicated cases. I would like to congratulate our colleagues in EU Member States and Canada for their excellent work!”