Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, recently announced the dismantling of a Franco-Israeli criminal network that was involved in a large-scale CEO fraud. The operation, which was led by France, took five days and resulted in the arrest of eight individuals, six in France and two in Israel.

The criminal network, made up of French and Israeli nationals, was involved in a scheme that specialized in impersonating high-ranking personnel in various companies and using their authority to transfer more than $40 million to their own bank accounts. The investigation was conducted jointly by Europol, the police forces of France, Croatia, Hungary, Portugal, and Spain.

Europol assists in the investigation

The investigation was initiated when one of the suspects impersonated the CEO of a company specializing in metallurgy, based in the department of Haute-Marne in north-eastern France, in early December 2021. The network used a pre-existing money laundering scheme involving multiple bank accounts to launder the stolen money.

The investigation was supported by Europol, which provided the following assistance:

  • Coordination: Europol played a key role in coordinating the investigation, ensuring that the different national police forces were able to work together effectively.
  • Information sharing: Europol shared intelligence and analysis with the police forces involved in the investigation, providing them with the information they needed to take down the criminal network.
  • Operational support: Europol provided operational support during the investigation, helping to plan and execute raids and arrests.

The investigation was a success, with Europol and the national police forces involved in the operation seizing a large amount of evidence, including computers, phones, and other electronic devices. The eight individuals arrested are facing charges of fraud, money laundering, and participation in a criminal organization.

CEO Scam fraud on the rise

CEO fraud is a type of business email compromise (BEC) scam that is becoming increasingly common. In a CEO fraud scam, a criminal pretends to be the CEO of a company or another high-ranking executive and sends an email to an employee, usually in the finance department, requesting a wire transfer to be made to a bank account.

According to the FBI, BEC scams like CEO fraud have resulted in losses of more than $26 billion since 2016. These scams are particularly effective because they exploit people’s trust in their colleagues and superiors, and they often involve social engineering techniques that are difficult to detect.

Europol issue warning

Europol has issued a warning about the growing threat of CEO fraud and other types of BEC scams, highlighting the need for companies to be vigilant and take steps to protect themselves. Some of the steps that companies can take to protect themselves from CEO fraud and other BEC scams include:

  • Education: Educate employees about the risks of CEO fraud and other BEC scams and provide them with training on how to spot suspicious emails.
  • Authentication: Implement two-factor authentication (2FA) for email and financial transactions to provide an additional layer of security.
  • Policies and procedures: Develop policies and procedures for verifying requests for wire transfers and other financial transactions, including requiring multiple levels of approval and using pre-approved vendor lists.

The Takeaway

The dismantling of the Franco-Israeli criminal network involved in CEO fraud is a significant win for law enforcement agencies across Europe. The success of the operation highlights the importance of international cooperation in the fight against cybercrime and other types of organized crime. Companies must take steps to protect themselves from CEO fraud and other BEC scams, as these types of scams can result in significant financial losses. It is important for companies to remain vigilant and educate their employees about the risks of BEC scams.

Additionally, it is critical for governments and law enforcement agencies to continue to work together to combat cybercrime and other types of organized crime. This includes sharing information and resources, coordinating investigations, and implementing measures to prevent and disrupt criminal activity.

Finally, it is important to note that while the dismantling of this Franco-Israeli criminal network is a significant success, cybercrime and other types of organized crime continue to evolve and adapt. As such, it is important for individuals, companies, and governments to remain vigilant and take steps to protect themselves against these threats.