Over One Hundred Arrests In Business Email Compromise Swoop

European police have released details of two major operations against business email compromise (BEC) fraudsters, which resulted in the arrest of 106 suspects, mostly from Spain and Italy. Operation Wine Cellar and Operation Theatre were carried out in November 2021 but are only now being made public due to operational reasons.

The arrests were made following two complex fraud cases in which security forces identified an organised crime group targeting state-owned companies. The scheme defrauded 94 organisations in this way, racking up profits of €2.8m. 

The criminals used a “sophisticated money laundering infrastructure” to obfuscate the flow of proceeds from these crimes and hamper investigator efforts to track it down. Europol, which provided support to the Hungarian authorities during the operations said. “The criminals would impersonate a service company to inform their victims that the service company now had a new bank account to which the payments for the provided services should be sent.” 

This large criminal network was very well organised in a pyramid structure, which included different specialised areas and roles. 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 crypto currencies. 

Europol money laundering specialists and economic analysts were sent to Hungary to help investigators with house searches and forensic assessment of seized gadgets.

The police campaigns have been named Operation Wine Cellar and Operation Theatre and were carried out by the Anti-Economic Crime Department of the Budapest Metropolitan Police and Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre assisted in the operations. 

The fraudsters leveraged fake invoices to achieve their financial goals, impersonating a service company to trick victims into thinking that they owed the service money via a new bank account. Using this technique, the scheme was successful in defrauding 94 organisations, resulting in millions of dollars in profit.

BEC has been the highest-earning cyber crime type for threat actors for a number of years and in 2021 the losses for victims were almost $2.5 billion.

Europol:    Scammer Info:     Oodaloop:     Infosecurity Magazine:   Cybersecurity News:    Security Week:

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