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Gang’s number is up: police bust spells end for SIM cloners

A SIM card-cloning gang that netted €250,000 by draining the bank accounts of a hundred victims after tricking their phone companies into giving it access to their personal details has been busted by police in Spain.

The gang, known as the Black Panthers – with no apparent connection to the militant 20th-century protest group – comprised a network of four “differentiated but interconnected cells that used different methods to carry out scams.” Police in Barcelona, where 55 arrests were made, said this included social engineering techniques such as voice phishing or “vishing.”

They added that the gang’s loose, collaborative structure suggested that the Black Panthers lacked a central leader, instead relying on highly specialized individuals to succeed in its criminal enterprise.

“Those investigated took control of mobile phone numbers of victims by making a duplicate of their SIM cards,” said police. “To do this, they used phishing, vishing, and call-forwarding techniques. Once they impersonated the identity of the users, they took control of victims’ electronic banking and made fraudulent transfers to a network of mules spread throughout the Levantine coast.”

This allowed the criminals to drain victims’ accounts, with a mean average of approximately €2,500 stolen from each one.

A multi-layered scam

“Vishing was the most widely used technique to obtain duplicate SIM cards,” said police. “They did it directly to well-known telephone and telecommunications companies in our country, posing as customers – whose data they already had after having carried out phishing attacks on the employees of the telephone operators themselves.”

Gang members gained access to databases containing user credentials of phone company employees by posing as technical support workers. This enabled them to gain access to the personal details of customers and make duplicate SIM cards.

Police added that the cybercriminals also used dark web forums to illegally acquire ID and credit card numbers through cryptocurrency purchases.

“The cloned cards were used to purchase luxury products, which they collected at the delivery points by displaying the physical ID cards stolen or purchased on black markets to later resell to hinder the traceability of the product,” said police.

During the bust, 45 SIM cards, 11 mobile phones, and four laptops were seized.

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