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Suspected members of card fraud network arrested by Spanish police in Europol-backed operation

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card fraud network

Police in Spain have arrested 24 suspected members of a counterfeiting ring that specialised in producing fake fuel, credit and debit cards.

The alleged gang members, who were caught as a result of an operation backed by Europol and French investigators, sold the cards to lorry drivers and haulage firms, which used them to fraudulently avoid paying toll fees.

Operation ANDREA, which took place over the course of three months, involved raids on 21 properties, during which police seized more than 15,000 counterfeit blank cards and devices to write information to them, four luxury cars and €19,770 (£23,348) in cash, as well as closing 11 bogus card factories.

Throughout the duration of the probe, investigators found the network was responsible for cards used to carry out 30,000 fraudulent transactions in Spain and France over the three-month period.

Information obtained by investigators that identified the licence plates of the vehicles users of the fake cards were driving revealed that more than 600 were located in Spain.

The Europol-led investigation, which was supported by the Fuel Industry Card Fraud Intelligence Bureau (FICFIB), the Spanish authorities and the French Gendarmerie, revealed that the cards the gang produced allowed drivers to avoid paying tolls estimated to be worth in excess of €500,000.

Unveiling the results of the investigation, Spanish police said: “Agents of the Civil Guard and the National Police have dismantled a criminal network dedicated to the falsification of bank cards used to pay tolls on motorways in Spain, France, Germany and Italy.

“Twenty-four members of the criminal network were arrested in the provinces of Barcelona, ​​Gerona, Tarragona, Zaragoza and Castellón, who were responsible for losses of more than €500,000.

“During the 21 raids carried out as part of the operation, 11 card counterfeiting workshops were dismantled in which the gang prepared the cards to carry out their illicit activities.”

In a statement highlighting the success of the operation, Europol noted how its European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) regularly hosts international meetings with the FICFIB, during which representatives from the fuel industry, law enforcement agencies and Europol discuss the problems related to payment card fraud at tolls and petrol stations across Europe.

Europe’s law enforcement agency noted that these types of meetings provide insight into the activities of organised crime groups involved in this kind of illegal activity, and help stakeholders “prepare the proper reaction of the industry and police forces to protect EU citizens”.

 

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Police across Europe arrest scores during child trafficking crackdown

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child trafficking crackdown

Law enforcement agencies across Europe took part in a coordinated crackdown on child trafficking at the beginning of last month, Europol revealed earlier today.

During the first week of July, police across 22 member states took part in an EMPACT trafficking in human beings campaign that resulted in the identification of 51 children and 72 adults who police suspected could be potential victims of exploitation.

The children, the youngest of which was aged just two, were exploited for the purposes of labour, forced begging, and sexual services, Europe’s law enforcement agency said.

The operation also resulted in the discovery of criminals with links to migrant smuggling and the fake document trade, triggering the investigation of 45 new cases.

In total, the crackdown resulted in the detention of 24 suspects who were questioned over their alleged links to the human trafficking trade, and a further 61 suspects who were detained in relation to other crimes.

“The actions focused mainly on hotspots for sexual exploitation, forced begging and forced criminality (e.g. pickpocketing and minor thefts), and intensified activities at border crossing points,” Europol said in a statement.

“As the identification of victims of trafficking in human beings remains very challenging, particularly the identification of child victims, many participating countries also undertook prevention and awareness raising activities.”

News of the success of the operation comes after UK officials last week warned that people smugglers and human traffickers are using Facebook to attract potential victims.

Speaking with the Evening Standard last week, National Crime Agency (NCA) Deputy Director Tom Dowdall said migrant deaths in the Mediterranean remain high and that victims were too often being recruited via the social network.

The NCA said it had found more than 800 Facebook pages that were linked to organised crime gangs involved in the trafficking of migrants into and across Europe.

In comments made separately to the Reuters news agency, Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce boss Chris Hogben warned that Facebook is failing to prevent people smugglers from luring victims through its platforms.

“More often than not, these adverts are quite reassuring, they create an illusion this is very much normal travel, it’s safe, it’s easy,” he said.

“Tragically, when you look at quite a few of these adverts they might be advertising big luxury yachts or ships. When the migrants turn up to get transported they find they are being packed onto a rib or a small boat without safety jackets.”

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Venezuela to cut massive fuel subsidises to fight rampant gasoline smuggling

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Venezuela to cut massive fuel subsidises

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has said the country’s subsidised fuel prices should rise to international levels in a bid to prevent smugglers cheating the country out of billions of dollars.

Speaking during a televised address yesterday, Maduro said petrol must now be sold at an internationally-competitive price to stop smuggling gangs trafficking fuel out of the country to Colombia and the Caribbean.

As is the case with many oil-producing nations, Venezuela has offered its citizens heavily-subsidised petrol for decades, but its fuel prices have remained nearly flat for years despite hyperinflation.

This means the country’s drivers can now fill up the tank of a small SUV nearly 9,000 times over for the price of a cup of coffee.

Put another way, filling up a tank of fuel in Venezuela currently costs the equivalent of less than one US cent.

This offers smugglers massive profits in exchange for smuggling fuel out of Venezuela to be sold at market value in neighbouring countries, so much so that the trade in illicit fuel has become more lucrative than drug smuggling.

It is estimated the country’s crumbling economy loses as much as $18 billion a year to fuel smuggling, forcing the government to act as the nation’s production of oil, which is its largest export, continues to fall.

While Maduro has pledged that the Venezuelan government will continue to offer “direct subsidies” to citizens holding a state-issued identification card, many Venezuelans have refused to get the ID cards, alleging they are used by officials to keep tabs on them.

Maduro said: “Anyone who does not respond to the call for this census, who does not wish to participate in the direct subsidy, will have to pay for gasoline at the international rate.”

Responding to Maduro’s announcement on Twitter, Chief Economic Adviser to Allianz Mohamed El-Erian commented: “It will be interesting to see how the population in #Venezuela responds to today’s announcement by President #Maduro eliminating subsidies on #fuel. If implemented fully, this would entail a significant rise in prices … from the lowest in the world to international levels.”

Other observers suggested hiking fuel prices in Venezuela might risk pushing even higher the country’s sky-high inflation rate, which the International Monetary Fund predicts could reach one million percent.

“The collapse in economic activity, hyperinflation, and increasing deterioration in the provision of public goods as well as shortages of food at subsidized prices have resulted in large migration flows, which will lead to intensifying spill over effects on neighbouring countries,” Alejandro Werner, head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department, wrote in a blog post.

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Police in New York break up $70 million fake Nike Air Jordans trafficking conspiracy

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$70 million fake Nike Air Jordans trafficking conspiracy

Five New York residents have been arrested after police disrupted a plot to traffic counterfeit Nike Air Jordan trainers estimated to be worth more than $70 million.

Officers from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit detained Miyuki Suen, Jian Min Huang, Songhua Qu, Kin Lui Chen and Fangrang Qu, before charging them with illegally importing the thousands of pairs of fake sports shoes from China into the US.

After the shoes arrived in the country, the suspects and their co-conspirators are said to have stuck bogus Nike-trademarked logos on them, before offering them for sale across the US.

Prior to charging the suspects, investigators examined nearly 27,000 pairs of trainers over an eight-month period.

Each member of the gang could face up to 20 years in jail if they are found guilty of counterfeit trafficking conspiracy and trafficking in counterfeit goods.

If the trainers had been genuine, they would have been worth $73 million if sold at retail value, according to the NYPD and HSI.

The bogus trainers are said to have looked nearly identical to the genuine article, but did not feature the genuine Nike Air Jordan trademarked logos.

In a statement, Angel Melendez, Special Agent in Charge for HSI New York. “These five individuals are alleged to have been a part of a large scale counterfeiting scheme, importing nearly a half million pairs of knock-off Nike sneakers.

“These counterfeiting networks can be both detrimental to our economy and threaten our national security, and HSI will continue to take every measure in investigating and dismantling these organisations.”

Manhattan Attorney Geoffrey Berman added: “The five defendants in this case allegedly counterfeited over $70 million in fake Nike shoes and sold them to buyers on the U.S. market.

“I commend our law enforcement partners for helping to bring today’s charges, which send a clear message to would-be counterfeiters: ‘Just don’t do it.’”

Nike Air Jordan trainers, which are named after retired basketball player Michael Jordan and typically sell for close to $200, have been widely counterfeited since they were introduced in the 1980s.

Back in January, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) discovered hundreds of pairs of Nike Air Jordan trainers in a shipment passing through Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

The 400 pairs of various versions of the trainers arrived at the airport on 15 December from China, and would have been worth nearly $55,000 if sold at the manufacturer’s recommended retail price.

 

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