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Police arrest online face mask tricksters

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• ZDRAVKO LJUBAS

POLICE officers in Ireland, the Netherlands and Romania detained 10 and charged 23 people in a joint operation targeting an online scam that involved the sale of masks and other protective materials against Covid-19 that were never delivered.

Europol, which coordinated the operation, last week said people from several African nations living in Europe were part of the criminal organisation that generated bogus email accounts and web sites that looked similar to those of real wholesale firms.

“Impersonating these companies, these criminals would then trick the victims, mainly European and Asian companies, into placing orders with them, requesting the payments in advance in order for the goods to be sent,” according to Europol.

The ordered products were never delivered, and the proceeds of the fake sales were later laundered through a network of bank accounts controlled by the organised crime group.

The network used fictitious identities to withdraw cash from accounts in Romania, Poland and Ukraine, mostly at ATMs, according to European law enforcement agencies.

Officers conducted 34 searches during the operation against the network which is believed to have defrauded companies in 20 countries of around one million euros (US$1,17 million), Eurojust said in a statement.

“The fraud was run by an organised crime group, which prior to the Covid-19 pandemic had already been illegally offering other fictitious products for sale online, including wooden pellets,” according to the statement.

Following the pandemic’s breakout last year, the gang altered its operating model and began selling protective products, such as face masks, it noted.

* Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project

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