Law enforcement agencies in Italy and Spain have dismantled an organized crime group linked to the Italian Mafia that was involved in online fraud, money laundering, drug trafficking, and property crime, netting the gang about €10 million ($11.7 million) in illegal proceeds in just a year.
"The suspects defrauded hundreds of victims through phishing attacks and other types of online fraud such as SIM swapping and business email compromise before laundering the money through a wide network of money mules and shell companies," Europol said in a statement published today.
The group operated out of Tenerife, located in Spain's Canary Islands.
The development comes following a year-long sting operation that saw as many as 16 house searches in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Turin, and Isernia, resulting in 106 arrests — mostly in Spain and Italy — and seizure of electronic devices, 224 credit cards, SIM cards, point-of-sale terminals, a marijuana plantation, and equipment used for its cultivation and distribution. 118 bank accounts have also been frozen as a result of the bust.
The criminal network is said to have been fashioned as a pyramid structure, with different members roped in for specialized roles, including computer experts, who created phishing domains and facilitated cyber fraud, as well as recruiters who were involved in money muling activities, and specialists adept in cryptocurrencies and money laundering.
The arrested members, a majority of whom are Italian nationals with links to mafia cartels such as Camorra Napolitana, Casamonica, Nuvoletta, and Sacra Corona Unita, lured their victims into transferring large amounts of money to bank accounts under their control. The illicitly acquired profits were then laundered through a wide network of money mules and shell companies.
The Italian National Police, in a separate statement, noted that the hackers had expertise in the latest generation phishing and vishing attacks and in the use of social engineering techniques, adding the "stolen sums were later recycled through the purchase of cryptocurrency or reinvested in further criminal activities, such as prostitution, drug production and trafficking, [and] arms trafficking."
The investigation was undertaken jointly by the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional), and supported by the Italian National Police (Polizia di Stato), Europol, and Eurojust.
"This group of criminals had managed to settle and enter different levels of society: Business networks, law firms and banking entities, among others," the Spanish National Police said in a press release. "This level of settlement not only gave the organization impunity for money laundering, but also for the different criminal activities of these Mafia groups carried out in Spain."