More than 40 people have been arrested by Canadian police, accused of being part of a massive card fraud ring that has stolen up to C$100 million.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police, working with local authorities, executed 61 arrest warrants in the Greater Montreal and northern fringe areas this week. Several men are still at large.
The arrests come after a four year investigation, dubbed Project Chapitre, which began after banks noted a spike in fraud cases. The Montréal-based network is thought to have worked with accomplices elsewhere in Canada and as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Tunisia and England.
The gang is alleged to have visited businesses and replaced point-of-sale terminals with bogus devices. They would then insert microchips or cloning devices inside the stolen terminals before returning them.
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, say police.
The gang was split into different cells, with certain groups responsible for stealing or modifying terminals, while others made large withdrawals from ATMs. Yet another group specialised in the installation of cloning devices and cameras on banking terminal overlays.
Mounties made around 80 searches, finding a haul of 12,000 counterfeit bank cards, close to 200 terminals, over 1000 parts used for terminal tampering, and a number of card readers, counterfeit automated banking machine overlays, encoders and embossers. In addition, the police seized approximately $120,000, 235 mobile phones, 90 computers, 13 vehicles and nine weapons.
A total of 368 charges will be laid against the accused, including for fraud, manufacturing of forged cards and identity theft, as well as for participation in activities of criminal organisation, commission of offence for criminal organisation, and instructing commission of offence for criminal organisation.