Europol arrests man for coronavirus business email scam peddling masks, sanitizer

European police continue to fight criminal activity linked to the spread of COVID-19.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Europol has arrested a man for allegedly attempting to launder cash generated from a business email scam (BEC) connected to the coronavirus outbreak. 

On Monday, the European law enforcement agency said the 39-year-old was arrested in Singapore after a suspicious transaction that requested the transfer of funds to a bank in the country was detected and blocked. 

See also: Europol eradicates criminal gangs flogging fake coronavirus medicine, surgical masks

It is claimed the individual was involved in a scam in which an unnamed pharmaceutical company, based in Europe, was defrauded out of €6.64 million. The man masqueraded as a legitimate organization that advertised the quick supply and delivery of FFP2 surgical masks and hand sanitizers, products that have become invaluable in the fight against COVID-19 while also allowing core businesses, research projects, and services to continue. 

The pharmaceutical company made the large payment -- but the items were never delivered and the supplier vanished. 

The alarm was raised with Europol and a request was made to Singaporean authorities to prevent the transaction from going through. It was then the job of law enforcement to track down the individual, who was arrested on March 25. 

Europol, alongside law enforcement agencies worldwide, continues to fight against COVID-19-related scams and criminal pursuits. The agency published a report in March which outlines how the criminal landscape has been changed by the pandemic, including how "criminals have been quick to seize opportunities to exploit the crisis by adapting their modi operandi or engaging in new criminal activities."

CNET: Coronavirus $1,200 stimulus check: Find out if you're eligible, how to get your payment from the IRS

This includes profiteering on protective gear, medicines, and peddling fake coronavirus preventatives or cures; taking advantage of workers now relying on teleconferencing and digital solutions, and exploiting the anxiety and fear felt by the general public in email and phishing scams. 

"The number of cyberattacks against organizations and individuals is significant and is expected to increase," Europol said. "Criminals have used the COVID-19 crisis to carry out social engineering attacks themed around the pandemic to distribute various malware packages [...] and are also likely to seek to exploit an increasing number of attack vectors as a greater number of employers institute telework and allow connections to their organizations' systems."

TechRepublic: VPN: 5 reasons business pros should always use one

Last month, Europol seized €13 million in drugs being illegally peddled to consumers as fake cures or preventative medication for COVID-19. Operation Pangea involved police forces from 90 countries and resulted in the takedown of 37 organized crime groups and 4.4 million drug packets being confiscated, the majority of which being painkillers and antibiotics. 

Europol’s top hacking ring takedowns

Previous and related coverage

Have a tip? Get in touch securely via WhatsApp | Signal at +447713 025 499, or over at Keybase: charlie0

Editorial standards