A major cybercrime gang operating in the Canary Islands has been broken up by the Spanish National Police, with assistance provided by the Italian National Police and Europol. The gang generated more than $12 million in profit through phishing scams and other forms of fraud such as SIM swapping and business email compromise scams. The scams mostly targeted Italian nationals but also claimed victims in Spain, Ireland, Germany and the United Kingdom. Hundreds of victims who were tricked into sending money to bank accounts under the control of the gang.
The gang had links to the Italian mafia and mostly consisted of Italian citizens, with many of the gang members operating out of Santa Cruz in Tenerife. Italian and Spanish investigators identified 150 members of the gang and 106 arrests were made on charges of fraud, computer fraud, receiving stolen goods, robbery, and drug possession and 118 bank accounts were seized. Last year than gang had a turnover of €10 million.
The gang included several hackers with an in-depth knowledge of the latest generation phishing, vishing, and social engineering techniques. A variety of lures were used in the phishing scams to trick people into making wire transfers to the bank accounts of money mules, who were recruited and resident in Spain. The scams often involved fraudulent transfers of hundreds of Euros, which were laundered through cryptocurrencies and funneled into a variety of criminal operations, including prostitution, arms trafficking, and drug production and trafficking.
16 individuals arrested as part of the “Fontana-Almabahia” law enforcement operation were prominent personalities of the criminal group in Spain. Several members of the gang had been involved in robberies, assault, and kidnapping, as well as two homicides on the island.
16 home searches were performed, and law enforcement officers seized several electronic devices used to conduct the scams, 224 credit cards, SIM cards, point-of-sale terminals, home banking devices, a marijuana plantation and associated equipment, and an electric shock machine.
“This large criminal network was very well organised in a pyramid structure, which included different specialised areas and roles,” explained Europol. “Among the members of the criminal group were computer experts, who created the phishing domains and carried out the cyber fraud; recruiters and organisers of the money muling; and money laundering experts, including experts in cryptocurrencies.”