On September 10, the Portuguese police and Europol announced that they had broken up one of the largest counterfeiting operations they had ever seen. According to a report, they seized €70,000 ($77,330) as well as discovering that as much as €1.3 million ($1.44 million) may have been created and distributed. The criminal organization had been operating using the dark web.
When officers from both Europol and the Portuguese Judicial Police carried out raids, they discovered a large criminal organization that had been counterfeiting currencies, including bitcoin since 2017. Five people were arrested and counterfeit banknotes were seized from across Europe, including in countries like Spain, France, Portugal, and Germany.
Law enforcement officials in Portugal carried out eight searches in homes and businesses in the country. There, they discovered 1833 counterfeit banknotes which included nearly 1300 €50 banknotes and over 500 €10 banknotes. The total amount of counterfeit currency was almost €70,000. Besides shutting down the site and seizing the currency, also included in the seizure was equipment such as printers, ultraviolet inks, security paper, computers, and holograms.
One aspect of this case that has law enforcement officials concerned is the preference that the alleged criminals had for bitcoin. Digital currencies often make it easier for fraudulent transactions to be disguised. It also is much easier to transfer currencies across borders and be able to easily exchange these cryptocurrencies for fiat currencies in other countries. All of this can occur without government oversight in many countries across the globe.
This is one area where the European Union’s Central Office for Combating Euro Counterfeiting has made a focus over the last several years. With countries within the European Union continuing to cooperate with one another to try to combat this illegal activity plus adding additional regulation to deter this activity from succeeding, the hope is that law enforcement officials will be able to shut down these types of operations before they can make any headway.
This is believed to have been the second-largest counterfeit currency operation using the web as its network of operations. The dark web can be accessed only through the Tor network and has become notorious as a safe haven for criminal activity. Those who come to the dark web are able to set up market places where they can obtain a wide variety of counterfeit documents, including currency, passports, driver’s license, and stolen account credentials.
Unfortunately, trying to stop this network has been proven to be difficult. However, law enforcement officials are demonstrating that there still can be a success in shutting down these types of operations.
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