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Ukrainians bust cyber criminals who stole over £3m across Europe
Ukrainian police have arrested members of a cyber crime gang who stole and embezzled millions of pounds from victims across Europe
Ukraine’s national Cyber Police unit has taken down a major cyber criminal operation that defrauded people across Europe out of over UAH 160m (£3.5m) in a major phishing operation, making two arrests and seizing assets across the country.
The Ukrainians said their operation, which was conducted alongside the main investigations department of the National Police force, the SBU (Ukraine’s national intelligence and security agency), and law enforcement from Czechia, had identified more than 1,000 victims, mostly in Czechia, France, Poland, Spain and Portugal.
The gang set up more than 100 phishing websites which they used to obtain bank card data that they then used to break into their victims’ accounts and steal their funds. These websites tended to offer various products at below-market prices.
They also set up two call centres, located in Vinnytsia, a small city about 150 miles southwest of Kyiv; and Lviv, in western Ukraine near the Polish border and hired a number of operators to convince victims to make purchases.
The operation saw officers conduct 30 searches of domestic properties and vehicles across the country and at the two call centre locations, seizing mobile phones, SIM cards and computing equipment.
The authorities have charged those arrested under Part 4 of Article 190 of the Ukrainian criminal code, which relates to fraud, and Part 1 of Article 255, which relates to the creation of a criminal community or organisation and participation in it. The charges carry a potential prison sentence of up to 12 years. Ten further arrests were made in the European Union (EU).
Cyber ops not dimmed by war
Prior to Russia’s invasion in February 2022, Ukraine’s cyber police was one of the most highly active in Europe, frequently taking action against cyber criminal operations located in the country – including ransomware affiliates, many of them with ties to Russia-linked actors such as Clop.
Despite the difficulties the country faces after 13 months of war, the country’s cyber operations remain highly effective at combating the threat that Ukraine-based cyber criminals still pose.
Last November, the Ukrainians disrupted another transnational fraud group which ran a fake cryptocurrency investment scheme, and raked in over £175m in the space of 12 months.
This operation also drew in Europe’s main Europol agency, and police forces from Albania, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Latvia and Spain. It ran a number of fake websites that lured potential investors in with the promise of huge profits that never materialised, as well as a number of call centres which between them employed more than 2,000 people.
Mark Lamb, CEO of HighGround.io, a Scotland-based supplier of cyber security performance management tools, said that unfortunately, due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis around the world, phishing operations and fake investment scams are currently seeing more success than usual when it comes to luring in victims.
“When it comes to protecting against these types of threats, consumers are advised to treat all links in emails with caution, and to only buy goods from reputable sites, where prices are realistic and nothing seems too good to be true,” he said.
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