Before 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, Quebec police pounced on a $100 million Montreal-based international credit card fraud ring, arresting more than 45 people.
"They visited 23 banks, they did 203 transactions and they were able to obtain $30,000 all in five minutes," Royal Canadian Mounted Police Staff Sgt. Yves LeBlanc told CTV Montreal. "This went on once, twice, sometimes three times a day. It went on maybe four to five times a week."
Those arrested were mostly of Arab and Sri Lankan descent, and police said at least 368 charges would be filed against them, the QMI Agency reported. They include gangsterism, fraud, identity theft and participation in a criminal organization, UPI said.
At least a dozen suspects are still at large.
International Fraud Ring
The investigation arose in 2008 out of a number of complaints received from financial institutions that had observed an increase in reported cases of fraud, according to a RCMP press release.
RCMP Sgt. Guy Pilon told a news conference the ring was "a well-organized group of criminals who had the means ... and their criminal activities reached well beyond our borders."
According to the Montreal Gazette, although masterminded in the Montreal region, the crime groups associated with this Montreal-based network are believed to work with accomplices in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Tunisia and England, in addition to Vancouver and Toronto.
According to the RCMP, each group had a specific role within the network. Certain groups were responsible for stealing or modifying Point-of-sale terminals, while others made large withdrawals from automated banking machines. Yet another group specialized in the installation of cloning devices and cameras on banking terminal overlays.
In order to commit their crimes, the fraud artists attended a business just prior to closing time, removed the point-of-sale terminal and replaced it with a bogus device. Then they inserted a microchip or a cloning device inside the stolen terminal and returned it to its original location when the business opened the next morning.
Using a memory card and a Bluetooth system installed inside the modified terminal, the thieves downloaded the clients’ payment card data. This information was then encoded and embossed into counterfeit cards that were used to withdraw money from the victims’ bank accounts.
Police seized approximately $120,000 in Canadian and US currency, 235 mobile phones, 90 computers, 13 vehicles and 9 weapons; more than12,000 counterfeit bank cards, close to 200 point-of-sale terminals, over 1,000 parts used for terminal tampering, and a number of payment card readers, counterfeit automated banking machine overlays, encoders and embossers.
All affected customers have had their funds reimbursed, police said.
RCMP recommends to prevent this type of fraud, store owners are urged to make sure their point-of-sale terminals are securely anchored to the counter to make them impossible to remove, and to examine them on a regular basis to detect any evidence of tampering.
Employees are also invited to contact their local police to report any information about anyone approaching them to facilitate point-of-sale terminal tampering. For their part, citizens must be security conscious when completing transactions to ensure the integrity of point-of sale terminals and automated banking machines.
Bottom line, police say: remain vigilant.