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Europol knocks out mobile cybercrime gang in Spain

International revenue sharing fraud still going good and strong

Europol and la policía española have taken down a gang of alleged cybercriminals engaged in a fraudulent phone calls scam, said to have caused financial damaged estimated at €2m, as part of an operation codenamed "Walker".

Coordinated police action in Barcelona on 6 July resulted in the arrest of nine suspects and the dismantling of a sophisticated illegal call centre, which the cybercrime gang had used to make fraudulent phone calls to premium service numbers set up and managed by other members of the criminal group based outside the EU.

Europol states that the investigation aimed to target the gang and its accomplices, apparently involved in fraud, using tourists' stolen phones.

The police raided six houses on Monday, and seized numerous pieces of evidence, including over 100 mobile phones and stolen SIM cards, more than €10,000 in cash, as well as credit cards, computer equipment and other devices which have now been taken away for further forensic examination.

The group, which received mobiles stolen from tourists in Spain, harvested the foreign mobile numbers (until they were blocked by the telecom operators in their countries) to make premium calls, before then attempting to launder the stolen money abroad.

Law enforcement analysed thousands of financial transactions to reconstruct the money flows and destinations across several jurisdictions. The criminal group relied on a network of accomplices who operated the destination bank accounts.

Late last year, a Welsh primary school teacher was left with a £15,000 bill after his phone was stolen in Barcelona, reported the Guardian, noting another case in which a recruitment worker was charged £21,000 by Vodafone after her phone was stolen in the Catalonian capital, though the charge was eventually dropped.

The rising profile of such incidents lead then culture secretary Maria Miller to announce in December 2014 that the government and the four major mobile service providers – EE, Vodafone, Virgin Media, and Three – had agreed to cap bills on phones that were reported stolen.

Contrary to the relatively recent protections instituted to insulate consumers from additional losses to crime, International Revenue Sharing Fraud has been an established criminal activity since before the turn of the millennium.

While call detail records will provide obvious evidence of such fraud, there are very few security practices currently in place to prevent it. Many service providers do not have an alarm system in place to detect it. Europol states that the global estimated illegal income from this type of crime is greater than €45m, annually.

The Register has contacted several operators to inquire about alarm systems and will update this article if and when we receive any replies. ®

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