Rent a nonexistent room: holiday-rental fraudsters busted

Europol has uncovered a multi-million euro holiday rental fraud scheme that’s affected more than 1000 victims.

Europol, with Romanian Police and the Spanish National Police, held an operation to dismantle a network of cyber fraudsters targeting travelers.

A typical holiday fraud is when an individual pays a travel agent, private entity, or agency for rental services advertised online, such as accommodation, transportation tickets, rental cars, or complete holiday packages, only to discover that the promised service does not actually exist.

According to Europol’s press release, this kind of cyber fraud is not new. However, the current case revealed a sophisticated network with no precedent.

The fraudsters operated in three groups, posting fake advertisements for cheap holiday rentals on genuine websites and phishing platforms, and recruiting money mules to launder the cash.

In addition to holiday rentals, the criminals also advertised second-hand cars and electronic devices to lure victims into their scams. The scammers engaged in a form of phishing scam known as Business Email Compromise (BEC).

Through the use of malware, they intercept victims' emails and deceive them into transferring funds to accounts controlled by the criminal network. It’s estimated that the criminal organization made millions of euros through their illegal activities.

While the gang was located in Romania, the group operated internationally and had branches in Spain. According to the police, the number of victims surpassed 1000, and most of them are from Spain. The amount spent per victim ranged between €200 and €10,000.

During the law enforcement’s operation on March 19th, nine scammers were arrested. Over €174,000 and 41,000 Romanian lei in cash was seized, along with electronic devices, including 135 mobile phones, 29 laptops, five tablets, 23 memory sticks, and 326 SIM cards, among others.

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