OpSec mistake brings down network of Dark Web money counterfeiter

European law enforcement conducts 300 house searches and makes 235 arrests.

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Image: Europol

European law enforcement agencies scored a big win this week against criminals active on the Dark Web. In a press release today, Europol revealed that police in 13 countries conducted 300 house searchers and arrested 235 suspects who bought counterfeit euro banknotes from a Dark Web marketplace.

All arrests made today are related to a successful case handled by the Austrian Federal Criminal Police Office in June in 2018 when they tracked down and arrested the owner of a Dark Web portal selling counterfeit money.

A source knowledgeable of the case's details told ZDNet today that the suspect had failed to protect his operation's business transactions with proper encryption. While the suspect used cryptocurrency to receive payments, he still kept a list of mailing addresses where he sent packages containing the counterfeit banknotes.

Austrian authorities seized the suspect's hardware and later found a list of all past customers, which it then passed to Europol and other law enforcement agencies across Europe.

Besides taking down the Dark Web shop selling counterfeit money, authorities also dismantled the owner's euro banknote printing shop, located in Leoben, Austria.

According to Europol, the suspect's shop was capable of printing 10, 20 and 50 euro banknotes. Authorities said he printed and shipped over 10,000 counterfeit banknotes before his arrest.

During this past week's crackdown on the shop's buyers, authorities recovered 1,500 counterfeit banknotes. During the 300 house searches, authorities also found drugs, weapons, Bitcoins, hardware for mining virtual currencies, a cannabis plantation, but also an additional illegal euro counterfeit print shop --the last two located in France.

At the end of May this year, Europol announced a continent-wide crackdown on illegal Dark Web activities. While drugs and weapons are often cited as the most prevalent products that someone could buy on the Dark Web, counterfeit currency is just as popular and easy to find.

Below is just three Dark Web portals selling counterfeit euro banknotes that this reporter was able to find within one minute. Other shops selling US dollars, Russian rubles, or British pounds were also just as easy to locate.

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Austrian police have played a major role in the past two years when it comes to bringing down counterfeit money printing shops operating on the Dark Web.

In February 2017, they dismantled an illegal euro banknote print shop in Vienna, and with the data obtained from that case, Europol coordinated the arrests of 53 other suspects.

In September 2018, Austrian authorities worked with Polish police to dismantle another money counterfeiting network operating in the Polish city of Gdynia.

Both criminal operations had been selling their counterfeit currency on the Dark Web, but apparently failed when it came to securing their sites.

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