31 arrests in Bulgarian-Spanish operation against Bulgarian organised crime group

Bulgarian and Spanish judicial and law enforcement authorities, working in close co-operation with Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) in The Hague, have dismantled another significant Bulgarian organised crime network suspected of a variety of crimes including large scale ATM skimming, electronic payment fraud and forgery of documents, Europol said on October 1.

In “Operation Imperium” on September 30, there were 31 arrests and 40 house searches. Twenty-six of the arrests were in Bulgaria and five arrests in Spain.

The co-ordinated action mainly took place in Malaga in Spain and in the three Bulgarian cities of Sofia, Bourgas, and Silistra, Europol said.

Eight criminal labs, including two very complex modern production sites for skimming equipment and counterfeit documents in Sofia and Malaga, were discovered and dismantled during the raids.

More than 1000 devices, micro camera bars, card readers, magnetic strip readers and writers, computers, phones and flash drives, as well as plastic cards ready to be encoded, were seized.

Officers found 3D printing equipment to produce fake plastic card slot bezels ready to be installed on the ATMs and manipulated POS terminals. Police officers also confiscated dozens of forged payment cards with records of PIN numbers, ready to be used at other ATMs.

The operation was led by Bulgarian and Spanish authorities via command and co-ordination centres in Sofia and Madrid.

Europol said that its EC3 experts were present on the spot with mobile offices, allowing direct access to Europol’s databases for the cross-checking, analysis and exchange of intelligence in real time. EC3 officers also provided tailor-made expertise, the police agency said.

All raids and arrests took place simultaneously and were co-ordinated with the support of the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT)3 officers located in the Europol headquarters in The Hague.

The primary modus operandi of the criminals and their associates was to harvest financial data from ATMs or tampered POS terminals in different areas of Europe (e.g. Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and Turkey), which they then used to create fake payment cards.

The fake cards could then be used to withdraw large amounts of cash from ATMs outside the European Union (e.g. in Peru and the Philippines).


The Head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), Troels Oerting, congratulated the law enforcement colleagues in Bulgaria and Spain for their “excellent work”, the media statement.

“We’ve hit another international organised payment crime network, which sends a strong signal to cybercriminal groups active in this field. This is a great example of effective joint efforts between EU member states and EC3 to protect customers and their electronic transactions across the European Union,” Oerting said.

“It also shows that police as well as other law enforcement authorities in the EU are putting Europol’s unique tools to very good use to make electronic payment transactions safer. At the same time this successful case proved a very good use of the J-CAT framework which helped in the final stages of investigation,” he said.



The Sofia Globe staff

The Sofia Globe - the Sofia-based fully independent English-language news and features website, covering Bulgaria, the Balkans and the EU. Sign up to subscribe to sofiaglobe.com's daily bulletin through the form on our homepage. https://www.patreon.com/user?u=32709292