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International cops arrest hundreds of fraudsters, money launderers and cocaine kingpins

Europol has arrested hundreds of fraudsters, money launderers and cocaine kingpins, and shut down thousands of websites selling pirated and counterfeit products in a series of raids over the past month.

As of Cyber Monday, law enforcement agencies had taken down 12,526 websites, disconnected 32 servers used to distribute and host illegal content for 2,294 television channels, and shut down 15 online shops selling counterfeit products on social media sites. Additionally, cops across several continents seized 127,365 fake designer watches, shoes, accessories, clothes, perfumes, electronics, phone cases and other counterfeit products worth more than Є3.8 million ($3.9 million).

This was part of a recurring Europol-led operation dubbed “In Our Sites” targeting intellectual property infringement on trademarks and pirated streaming content. 

“Key findings of the operation that took place from May 1 to November 14 also show that more counterfeit products are being assembled within the European Union’s borders and that intellectual property crime is closely intertwined with serious and organized crime,” the European cops said.

In one action, Spanish police arrested four individuals and charged one for their roles in a cyber crime ring dedicated to large-scale marketing and distribution of pirated audio-visual content. They also disconnected 32 servers and seized cash, documents and two luxury vehicles, according to Europol.

In this specific case, the prime suspect was earning up to Є150,000 ($155,000) a month, living in a fancy house, driving expensive cars and “embarking on extravagant vacations all over the world,” we’re told.

Meanwhile, in Bulgaria, following an investigation into a criminal gang using Facebook accounts and websites to sell knock-off designer duds, local police searched houses and found a workshop equipped with sewing and embossing machines. They seized fake trademark stickers, unbranded items, 600 counterfeit pieces of clothing worth about about Є35,000 ($36,000), and an illegal firearm. 

Cocaine ‘super cartel’ arrests

In addition to Operation In Our Sites, law enforcement across Europe and the United Arab Emirates earlier this month carried out raids targeting the command-and-control center and drug trafficking infrastructure belonging to a “super cartel” that controlled about one third of the cocaine trade in Europe. 

Law enforcement seized more than 30 tonnes of drugs and arrested 35 suspects in Dubai, Spain, France and Belgium, according to Europol. The arrests were the result of parallel investigations run in Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UAE, and Dutch police arrested 14 suspects last year as part of this same global operation.

iSpoof shutdown

Also last week, authorities in Europe, Australia, the US, Ukraine and Canada shut down a spoofing website called iSpoof and arrested 142 suspects, including the site’s primary administrator. The illicit operation, we’re told, cost victims worldwide more than Є115 million ($119 million).

For a fee, iSpoof allowed its customers – aka criminals – to disguise their phone numbers, make calls and send recorded messages while posing as banks, retail shops, government agencies and other trusted organizations. 

The intent is to trick victims into visiting a spoofed banking site, for example, and then harvest credentials or intercept one-time passcodes, and drain money from the victims’ accounts.

More than 200,000 people in the UK alone were targeted via iSpoof, according to London’s Metropolitan Police, which led the investigation and described the fraud operation as the country’s biggest-ever.

At one point, nearly 20 people every minute were contacted by scammers using iSpoof, according to police.

“The exploitation of technology by organized criminals is one of the greatest challenges for law enforcement in the 21st century,” Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Mark Rowley said in a statement. “Together with the support of partners across UK policing and internationally, we are reinventing the way fraud is investigated.” ®