Europol reports arrest of 23 suspects in COVID-19 online business fraud

Moscow, Aug 11 (Agency) The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, known as Europol, announced on Wednesday that an online scam involving the sale of protective materials against COVID-19, such as facemasks, has been uncovered as 23 suspects are charged with business email fraud. “On 10 August, 23 suspects were charged as a result of a series of raids carried out simultaneously in the Netherlands, Romania and Ireland. In total, 34 places were searched. These criminals are believed to have defrauded companies in at least 20 countries of approximately €1 million [$1.2 million],” Europol said in a press release.

The gang is comprised of Africans living in Europe who put up fake websites using names similar to legitimate wholesale companies. They thus posed as legitimate companies and deceived their victims — mostly European and Asian companies – into making orders with them, asking for advance payments for the products to be delivered. Ordered products were never delivered, and the proceeds of the fraudulent sales were wired through Romanian banks before being withdrawn at ATMs.

The operation was carried out under the framework of EMPACT in collaboration with law enforcement from Romania, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the European cybercrime center. EMPACT, an intelligence-led EU initiative, was set up to tackle the main criminal threats the European Union is facing. The initiative was first undertaken from 2012-2013, after which there were two four-year cycles between 2014-2017 and 2018-2021. In March 2021, the Council adopted conclusions on the permanent continuation of EMPACT as a crucial instrument for cooperation against major organized