Authorities arrest 23 suspects in Europe for COVID-19 email fraud

A series of raids carried out in the Netherlands, Romania, and Ireland on Tuesday resulted in the arrest of 23 individuals suspected of taking part in a “sophisticated fraud scheme” using compromised emails.

The individuals being charged are believed to have defrauded companies in more than 20 countries out of approximately €1 million (about $1.2 million), Europol announced on Wednesday. The organized crime group had been in operation since at least 2017 and originally offered fictitious products, like wooden pellets, for sale online. It was composed primarily of nationals from various African countries residing in Europe. 

“Last year the criminals changed their modus operandi and started offering protective materials after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Europol said.

The group created fake email addresses and webpages that mimicked ones belonging to legitimate firms, and tricked victims primarily in Europe and Asia into placing orders. The fraudsters requested payments in advance, and never delivered the orders.

According to Europol, the proceeds were laundered through Romanian bank accounts before being withdrawn at ATMs.

Law enforcement agencies have warned of a variety of pandemic-related scams. In addition to business email fraud, the US Department of Justice has issued alerts about schemes including:

  • Vaccine fraud schemes
  • Healthcare fraud schemes
  • Work from home scams
  • Telephone calls seeking donations for illegitimate charitable organizations
  • Stimulus money refund scams

Adam Janofsky

Adam Janofsky is the founding editor-in-chief of The Record by Recorded Future. He previously was the cybersecurity and privacy reporter for Protocol, and prior to that covered cybersecurity, AI, and other emerging technology for The Wall Street Journal.

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