COVID-19 business email compromise fraud
Companies seeking to buy protective material against Covid have paid over €1 million to an African gang working on behalf of Romanian gangsters. The gang used bogus emails to persuade the companies to pay money upfront for goods that never arrived.
On 10 August, 23 suspects were detained in a series of raids carried out simultaneously in the Netherlands, Romania and Ireland. 34 places were searched. These criminals are believed to have defrauded companies in at least 20 countries of approximately €1 million.
The fraud was run by an organised crime group which prior to the COVID-19 pandemic already illegally offered other fictitious products for sale online, such as wooden pellets.
Last year the criminals changed their modus operandi and started offering protective materials after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This criminal group – composed of nationals from African countries living in Europe — created fake email addresses and webpages similar to those of legitimate wholesale companies.
The perpetrators tricked mainly European and Asian companies using fake companies into placing orders with them, requesting the payments before the goods could be sent.
However, the goods were never delivered and the proceeds were laundered through Romanian bank accounts controlled by the criminals before being withdrawn at ATMs.
Two cybercrime experts from Europol supported the Dutch authorities. This action was carried out in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).