The losses caused by a cybercrime ring broken up on Tuesday by Romania could reach into the millions of euros, an official with the General Inspectorate of the Romanian National Police said on Thursday.
With help from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Romania arrested 19 people on Tuesday for a wide-ranging cybercrime and money-laundering operation. Romania is still hunting for other suspects.
The operation is estimated to have net the group at least US$635,000, but the investigation continues, and the real losses of the victims "probably will be much more, millions of euros," the official said.
The scammers are alleged to have put fake listings on auction sites such as eBay and ran phishing Web sites to steal credit card information.
The arrests represent another rare victory for law enforcement, which many experts have said is having difficulty dealing with the complexity of cybercrime cases along with the sheer number of scams.
Romania, along with other Eastern European countries, has been a hot bed for Internet crime given the country's high computer skills and economic factors such as low pay and employment.
The proceeds of the scams were used in part to buy luxury cars and real estate, the official said. Those arrested will be prosecuted under fraud-related charges.
The group allegedly shuffled money through a network of global bank accounts set up under false names, funneling the proceeds back to Romania, the official said.
"They hired people for a small amount of money to take the money from their account so the police could not discover the real beneficiaries of the money," the official said.
Police executed warrants on 34 residences in several Romanian cities, seizing at least the equivalent of US$50,000 in Romanian lei, British pounds and euros, plus 18 laptops,12 PCs and 29 mobile phones, the official said.
The FBI and Romania have cooperated before. In May, 38 people in the U.S. and Romania were charged for allegedly orchestrating complicated phishing schemes intended to steal credit and debit card numbers.
In those cases, debit and credit cards were used to withdraw money from ATMs or point-of-sale terminals with the highest withdrawal limits, the U.S. Department of Justice said at the time. Some of the money was wired to the card-number supplier in Romania.