23 arrested in NL, Romania and Ireland in coronavirus PPE fraud

Photo: DutchNews.nl
Photo: DutchNews.nl

Police in the Netherlands, Romania and Ireland have arrested 23 people in connection with what Europol describes as a ‘sophisticated fraud scheme’ offering personal protection equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.

At least 34 locations, including one in Tilburg, were raided as part of the investigation, and the gang is thought to have conned companies in at least 20 countries out of €1m.

The fraud, says Europol, was run by an organised crime group which already offered other fictitious products for sale online, such as wooden pellets. ‘Last year the criminals changed their modus operandi and started offering protective materials after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic,’ Europol said.

The group, made up of nationals from different African countries living in Europe, created fake email addresses and webpages similar to the ones belonging to legitimate wholesale companies. The criminals would then trick the victims – mainly European and Asian companies – into placing orders with them, requesting the payments in advance in order for the goods to be sent.

However, the delivery of the goods never took place, and the proceeds were laundered through Romanian bank accounts controlled by the criminals before being withdrawn at ATMs.

All 23 people were formally charged on August 10, Europol said.

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