Through an international operation, Europol and local law enforcement agencies arrested 53 counterfeiters that distributed or purchased fake euro banknotes via the darknet. The “joint action day” involved seven EU Member States, coordinated by Europol, their press release noted. The entire operation fell into place after the arrest of a single counterfeiter in Austria. After Austrian authorities busted the counterfeiter’s print shop, the multi-agency Investigation began.
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Austrian authorities arrested a counterfeiter in February 2017. The counterfeiter’s print shop revealed a massive counterfeit euro enterprise on the darknet. Unbeknownst to many, that bust opened the door to 53 or more darknet investigations and subsequent arrests. Investigators found that the darknet vendor had sold to customers in 33 countries. Among those 33 were Spain, France, Germany, USA, Canada, Argentina, Egypt, Russia and Singapore, authorities announced.
The investigation—one that Europol said targeted Alphabay and Hansa buyers or vendors—identified 77 houses connected to the counterfeiting infrastructure. Despite the massive number of houses searched, the current number of false euros seized by police remains low. The number, in local reports increased after initial announcements, but it now appears stable; the number has not fluctuated in several days.
The houses were spread across Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Slovakia and Spain. And some countries hosted significantly more suspects than other countries; in one country, Spain, the National Police only arrested four suspects. All four, according to the National Police, had purchased counterfeit notes on the darknet. With only six countries remaining, 49 arrests split evenly across all six equals roughly eight arrests per country.
Europol wrote that targeting active buyers and vendors on Darknet marketplaces was a strategically timed goal. The investigation began in May 2017 and ended in June 2017, one month before the “international operations by the United States (FBI) and the Netherlands.” The work, the press release revealed, focused on two former darknet marketplaces: Alphabay and Hansa.
Few public counterfeiting lab or shop busts—specifically in Austria—fit the scope or timeframe of the specified Austrian bust that led to the 53 arrests. Although one, in particular, stood out as unusual. In June, Austrian police (and local police in Réunion) called France’s Central Office For Combatting Counterfeiting for what they reported as nothing more than a counterfeit buyer.
The counterfeit buyer had recently bought fakes from a group of counterfeiters that sold their notes on the darknet. Not particularly unique. However, the group had produced extremely high quality notes. Austrian police called the Institute of Overseas Departments to request that a specialized office confirm or deny their authenticity. Furthermore, this Austrian counterfeiting ring had distributed 70,000 notes through the darknet. That (unknown to the public) group and their buyers always made headlines, especially after the secretive nature of several cases that followed the group’s bust.
Europol closed their announcement, stating that other law enforcement agencies had stated a “clear message that [they] have the means to identify criminality and strike back, even in areas of the Dark Web.”