International card skimming network disrupted

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Romanian law enforcement authorities, in close cooperation with Europol, have successfully disrupted an international organised crime group responsible for payment card fraud. The criminal group was active in many EU countries including Poland, Romania, Sweden and the UK.

The main focus of their criminal activities was the skimming and counterfeiting of payment cards, and illegal cash withdrawals all over the European Union. The criminal activities and illegal card transactions led to substantial financial losses for the card holders and issuers in the EU.

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Five members of the international criminal structure were arrested in Romania. Additionally, during 14 house searches conducted in several Romanian cities, including Pitesti, Galati and Vaslui, police officers seized large amounts of cash (EUR 50 000, USD 50 000 and GBP 18 000), as well as goods illegally purchased by the suspects.

The successful operation, supported by Europol, was carried out by the Prosecutor’s Office of the Romanian Counter Organised and Serious Crime Directorate (DIICOT) and the Romanian Cyber Crime Unit of the Brigade of Countering Organised Crime (BCCO).

The Polish Police from the Regional Headquarters of Police in Lublin, also supported the operation by providing intelligence.

Europol coordinated the operation and supported Romanian investigators on the spot during the final raids in Romania. Europol has been involved in the case since March 2010, facilitating the exchange of information and providing technical expertise and operational analysis. Europol organised two operational meetings at its headquarters in The Hague between Polish, Romanian and Swedish investigators and prosecutors.

The coordination of investigative measures was necessary as several members of the same organised crime group were also arrested in Poland. The main aim of Europol in this case was to facilitate international cooperation which is key to the successful prosecution of all members of the criminal network.

Payment card fraud is a global problem. Criminals with access to payment card data use this to attack the bank accounts of EU citizens. Illegal transactions with counterfeit cards are not only made in EU countries but also overseas. In such cases, Europol’s central role in coordinating crossborder cooperation and investigations is crucial to effectively tackle the problem.

Background: Skimming – the copying of payment card data from the magnetic strip – usually takes place when a card is used by the cardholder at a genuine ATM or Point of Sale/petrol payment terminal. The card details are then copied onto on a new, counterfeit card and, subsequently, illicit transactions – mainly cash withdrawals – take place at ATMs all over the world. 

The skimming devices are often used in conjunction with a pinhole camera or a fake pin pad to read the cardholder’s PIN at the same time. The public are advised to inform the bank or the police immediately if they spot anything unusual on or around an ATM machine, or if there are possible signs of tampering or manipulation.

Source: Europol press release

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