Europol has announced the arrest of members of one of Europe's most prolific counterfeit currency networks.
Believed to be the second-largest known counterfeit currency ring operating in the web's underbelly, the network has now been dismantled following the arrest of five individuals suspected of being involved in the creation of fake currency, Europol said on Monday.
The Portuguese Judicial Police (Polícia Judiciária) arrested the suspects, who have not been named. Each, however, is accused of counterfeiting and organized crime.
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During the operation, made possible through Europol's financial and operational support on the day of the arrests, law enforcement also seized counterfeit currency worth €1.3 million across France, Germany, Spain, and Portugal.
In Portugal alone, a total of eight searches resulted in the confiscation of 1,833 counterfeit banknotes -- 1,290 €50 banknotes and 543 €10 banknotes, created to appear to be worth €69,930 in legitimate fiat currency.
Police officers also seized equipment used to print fake banknotes including printers, computers, ultraviolet inks, security paper, and holograms.
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The Dark Web, a layer of the Internet that can only be accessed via the Tor network, has become associated with some forms of crime. Traders setting up shop in underground marketplaces may offer counterfeit documents -- such as passports, driving licenses, and more -- as well as fake currency, stolen account credentials, and bulk data dumps.
The case shows that counterfeit traditional banknotes are still an area of interest to criminals, but the emergence of cryptocurrency and virtual assets is also proving to be a challenge for law enforcement.
It can be easier to mask fraudulent transactions -- as well as anonymize the purchase of goods through the Dark Web -- by trading cryptocurrency, and with this in mind, Europol is soon to launch a new cryptocurrency training program to help its officers navigate this new area of cybercrime.
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In October, the agency is due to launch a cryptocurrency-tracking system that will employ gamification to teach trainees how to spot and investigate what may be illicit cryptocurrency trades.
The focus of the game will be to educate officers in the various ways cryptocurrency is used to mask criminal or fraudulent activity, launder money, how it is possible to 'wash' funds clean to remove the stain of criminal activity from virtual coins on the blockchain via mixing services, and how to spot cryptocurrency-related scams.
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