20 Arrested in Italy and Romania for Spear Phishing Scam

Authorities this week arrested 20 individuals in Italy and Romania for their role in a banking phishing scam that defrauded bank customers of €1 million ($1.23 million).

The arrests were the result of a two-year long cybercrime investigation conducted by the Romanian National Police and the Italian National Police, with support from Europol, the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT), and Eurojust.

The arrests were made on March 28, following a series of coordinated raids. 9 of the individuals were arrested in Romania and 11 in Italy. The Romanian Police raided 3 houses, while the Italian authorities conducted 10 home and computer searches.

The hackers, Europol reveals, engaged in a banking fraud scheme that netted €1 million from hundreds of customers of 2 major banking institutions.

The group, mainly comprised of Italian nationals, sent spear phishing emails impersonating tax authorities to victims, in an attempt to harvest their online banking credentials.

Unlike common phishing scams, where millions of generic emails are sent to potential victims, spear phishing emails are highly personalized, featuring content that makes them appear as coming from a reputable source, such as the bank.

Since 2016, the investigators have been tracking the manner in which the arrested individuals have been using the stolen online banking credentials to log into their victims’ accounts and transfer funds to the attacker-controlled accounts.

Next, they would withdraw the funds from Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) in Romania, using credit/debit cards linked to the criminal accounts.

The highly organized hackers pursued their criminal activities using encrypted chat applications. They also used intimidating and punitive methods towards affiliates and competitors to establish power, Europol says.

Furthermore, authorities suspect the group of money laundering, as well as drug and human trafficking, prostitution, and participation in a criminal organization.

During the investigation, Eurojust ensured the coordination between the prosecuting and investigating authorities in Italy and Romania, while Europol provided tailored intelligence analysis and expertise.

Earlier this week, Europol announced that a Ukrainian national believed to be the leader of a hacking group that used Carbanak malware to steal money from banks worldwide was arrested in Spain. The cybercriminal group has caused losses totaling over €1 billion ($1.23 billion).

Related: Ukrainian Suspected of Leading Carbanak Gang Arrested in Spain

Related: Ukraine Arrests ‘Avalanche’ Cybercrime Organizer: Police

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Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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