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178 arrested in pan-European money mule crackdown

Law enforcement dents cybercrime networks

By John Leyden, 22 Nov 2016

A pan-European crackdown has resulted in the arrest of 178 suspected money mules.

Across Europe, 580 people were identified as suspects. National law enforcement agencies last week interviewed 380 suspects collectively implicated in losses amounting to €23m.

After malware or phishing is used to obtain the login credentials of compromised accounts, it's normally necessary to transfer looted funds to another account in the same country before it can be wired overseas to cybercrime kingpins, who are typically based in eastern Europe. Money mules are recruited as money laundering intermediaries by these crime lords and their lieutenants.

Money laundering schemes are frequently disguised as legitimate job opportunities but ignorance is unlikely to offer much as a defence for many of these accused of facilitating cybercrime.

In a statement, Michèle Coninsx, president of Eurojust, said: "It is important to understand that money laundering may on the surface seem to be a small crime, but is orchestrated by organised crime groups, that is what we need to inform the public about. Therefore, the European Money Mule Action II is paramount to stop people being lured and recruited into aiding serious crime, to break this crime link, by being aware of who is behind this type of crime."

Steven Wilson, head of Europol's European Cybercrime Centre, added: "The European Money Mule Action is a successful example of public-private co-operation at the closest level. The results of this second edition demonstrate a very strong connection between cybercrime and the illegal transactions identified."

Law enforcement agencies from across Europe as well as the FBI and United States Secret Service participated in the international operation. In addition, 106 banks and private partners supported the crackdown, the second pan-European operation of its type. Background on an earlier European Money Mule Action last March, which led to the arrest of 81 suspects, can be found here. ®

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