Interpol Closes in on Global BEC Gang

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Irish police have joined forces with Interpol to track down an organized crime gang that has already stolen more than €14m ($16m) from local businesses and individuals through business email compromise (BEC).

The Garda has been investigating the gang for several years for multiple serious financial crime offenses. Its 18-month long Operation Skein has already led to the reported arrests of over 400 suspects, but the global nature of cybercrime meant international policing work was also needed.

To that end, Interpol’s Global Financial Crime Task Force (IGFCTF) provided on-the-ground support to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) last month to help share intelligence with international forces.

Interpol also helped Irish police with digital forensic work, downloading data and call records from seized devices and analyzing the evidence “through a global lens.” This has already triggered cooperative investigations with police in the US and South Africa, Interpol said.

The investigation has also revealed links between the Ireland-based gang and notorious Nigerian crime syndicate Black Axe, which also focuses on BEC scams.

“Arrests and prosecutions outside of Ireland are foreseen as ongoing investigations unfold,” Interpol claimed.

BEC has been the highest-grossing cybercrime category over the past three years, according to the FBI.

Reported crimes led to losses of nearly $1.9bn last year, off the back of just 19,000 cases. That amounted to nearly half the total for cybercrime losses in 2020. In 2019 it was $1.8bn, and the year before that it was $1.3bn.

The investigation is not only targeting the BEC gang itself but also its international networks of money mules. They’ve already enabled the group to launder approximately €8m ($9m), according to Interpol.

COVID-19 dealt efforts by banks to track suspicious transactions of this sort of blow as key staff was sent to work from home, often without the right tools at their disposal, according to some reports.

According to a BAE Systems report in September, 60% of compliance officers from financial institutions believe that tracking money laundering has become harder over the past year.

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