Law enforcement agencies around the world have arrested 118 suspects, including around 40 in the UK, in the third international cyber-crime operation of its kind.
The operation was led by Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) in The Hague and co-ordinated with the help of Interpol in Singapore and Ameripol in Bogota.
The operation was aimed at tackling online fraud and was conducted in collaboration with the airline, travel and credit card industries.
More than 60 airlines and 45 countries were involved in the activity, which took place at over 80 airports across the world.
The co-ordinated action targeted criminals suspected of fraudulently purchasing plane tickets online using stolen or fake credit card data.
In many cases it was revealed how the credit card fraud has links to or is facilitating other forms of serious crime, such as drug trafficking.
According to EC3, the banking, airline and travel sectors have suffered substantial financial losses as a result of the internet-facilitated crime.
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Airlines join credit card firms and police
The airline industry alone has been hit by losses of $1bn caused by fraudulent online ticket booking. Millions of victims are affected through the misuse of their credit card data.
Representatives from the airlines and major credit card companies American Express, MasterCard and Visa attended the European Cybercrime Centre to identify suspicious airline ticket transactions.
Using their own financial data systems, credit card company officials confirmed suspicions when alerted by the airlines.
EC3 said this partnership, between law enforcement authorities and the industries affected, as well as the level of global response, are essential to effectively targeting the extremely mobile cyber criminals who commit the crimes from anywhere in the world.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) took part in the action, providing fraud intelligence from its database.
Global co-ordinated action
Notifications were sent to transport hubs across the world as waiting enforcement officers intercepted and detained suspects attempting to travel using fraudulently obtained flight tickets.
Backing them up, a team of dedicated Europol analysts provided live access to centralised criminal intelligence databases.
EC3 said the operation was aimed at disrupting criminal online services offering credit card credentials and fake plane tickets, and at protecting consumers from being duped by these criminals.
Besides the successful operational outcome, another positive result is the creation of a global alliance of airlines and law enforcement agencies. They will now work together on an ongoing basis to combat online fraud and crime, EC3 said in a statement.
“Most arrests were in the EU and many crimes were solved at the same time because these criminals, using hacked credit card credentials, are also involved in other crimes,” EC3 head Troels Oerting told Computer Weekly.
Private sector co-operation
Europol director Rob Wainwright said the operation is another example of law enforcement and the private sector working seamlessly together to prevent and fight cyber crime.
“We are reaching new levels with our co-operation and aim to become an 'unbeatable alliance' with aspirations to make cyber space as crime-free as possible for global citizens,” he said.
Wainwright said Europol’s EC3 will continue to invest heavily in conducting similar operations and other activities that will make life harder for cyber criminals.
“This international operation was the result of months of detailed planning between law enforcement, prosecuting and border control agencies, airlines and credit card companies, co-ordinated by EC3,” he said.