AFP shuts down crime ring in its largest data breach investigation

The Australian Federal Police has shown that criminals hiding behind jurisdictional boundaries can still be brought to justice by working with overseas authorities to successfully shut down a Romanian crime ring.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

The Australian Federal Police (AFP), in conjunction with overseas authorities, have shut down a Romanian crime ring whose targets included some 500,000 Australian credit card accounts.

The investigation, codenamed Operation Lino, began in June 2011 after the AFP received a tip off from an Australian financial institution that had discovered the suspicious transactions.

"Banks have advanced monitoring systems to prevent fraud and in this case, they contacted customers when suspicious transactions occurred. Often, banks will take immediate action to protect the account, stop transactions and cancel cards when it is confirmed that fraud may have been perpetrated," Australian Bankers' Association Chief Executive Münchenberg said in a statement.

AFP's investigation grew to include law enforcement agencies from other countries, as information provided by financial institutions helped to reveal that fraudulent transactions were also occurring in Europe, Hong Kong, the US, and other parts of the world.

In March this year, the AFP worked with Romanian National Police to trace the transactions back to a crime ring in Romania. Yesterday, Romanian law enforcement authorities detained 16 people and subsequently arrested seven, shutting the syndicate down. The AFP is expected to continue working with Romanian authorities throughout the prosecution phase there.

According to the AFP, the syndicate had access to about 500,000 Australian credit cards, 30,000 of which had been used to conduct fraudulent transactions of over AU$30 million.

"This is the largest data breach investigation ever undertaken by Australian law enforcement," AFP Manager for Cyber Crime Operations Commander Glen McEwen said in a statement.

"Without the cooperation of 13 other countries, along with Australia's banking and finance sector, we would not have been able to track these illegal transactions to the criminal network in Romania. Today's successful outcome is a culmination of 17 months of hard work with these partners."

The AFP has previously struggled with criminals flaunting jurisdictional boundaries to evade capture or arrest. In August, AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan highlighted that some of AFP's online crimes investigations had been hampered due to the slow exchange of information across jurisdictions. This allows criminals, who can move at lightning speed in comparison, to escape and go to ground at the first sign that their ruse is up.

Australian financial institutions have written off the AU$30 million in fraud and reimbursed customers that were affected by the crime ring to ensure that no credit card holders lost money.

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