Threat Intelligence

Europol Operation Busts Payment Card Identity Theft Ring

Members of an international crime ring of payment card skimmers who stole more than $500,000 were arrested by a joint multi-national law enforcement operation.

A consortium of international law enforcement agencies arrested 31 members of an international crime ring suspected of stealing more than $500,000 from thousands of Europeans by skimming their data off of payment cards, Europol announced today.

The payment card ring is suspected of pilfering data from 3,000 European citizens and then cloning the information onto bogus payments cards that were used to make illegal purchases in a number of countries outside of Europe.

On average, the group skimmed 400 ATMs each year between 2014 until their arrest. Once they had the data and phony cards, they made illegal purchases at 200 ATMs, which were largely located in the US, according to Europol. The group also hit ATMs in the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Peru, the Philippines, and Costa Rica.

"If your card allows a foreign transaction, it's either approved or denied right away. After that, it goes through a process that can take a couple days and it's a way the bad guys can build in a buffer," says Morey Haber, vice president of technology at BeyondTrust, in explaining why this payment card ring opted to do all the transactions in countries outside of where the victims lived.

The investigation drew in law enforcement agencies from Europe, Spain, and Bulgaria, which included the Central Investigating Judge number 5, the Public Prosecution Office at the Audiencia Nacional and National Police of Spain, and the General Directorate Combating Organized Crime in Bulgaria, with the support of Eurojust and Europol's European Cybercrime Centre (EC3).

"This successful operation confirms Eurojust's commitment to protect the assets of EU citizens from falling into the hands of cyber fraudsters. An entire criminal network was taken down and, as a result, is no longer able to defraud innocent victims," said Francisco Jimenez-Villarejo, National Member for Spain at Eurojust, in a statement.

People who rarely travel overseas may want to consider asking their card companies to deny any foreign transactions, while companies that operate ATM machines may want to consider purchasing newer machines with safer ATM technology, advised Haber.

He noted that some ATM machines no longer require a user to swipe their card across a magnetic strip and instead allow the card to be laid down horizontally and read by the ATM machine. The new technology is more secure because it moves away from magnetic card strips, which the bad guys use to gleen data with their card skimmers.

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Dawn Kawamoto is an Associate Editor for Dark Reading, where she covers cybersecurity news and trends. She is an award-winning journalist who has written and edited technology, management, leadership, career, finance, and innovation stories for such publications as CNET's ... View Full Bio

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