In a sweeping international initiative known as Operation EMMA, law enforcement agencies, spearheaded by Dutch police and supported by Europol and Eurojust, have successfully identified and targeted four emerging trends in financial crime that are being exploited by money launderers. The extensive three-month operation resulted in the arrest of over 1,000 individuals and the identification of nearly 11,000 money mules. Noteworthy is the collaboration of over 2,800 banks and tech companies, including major names such as Coinbase, Fourthline, Santander, Tripadvisor, and Western Union, from 26 different countries.
Investigations conducted during Operation EMMA unveiled that criminals are increasingly preying on vulnerable Ukrainian refugees who, seeking asylum from conflict, are coerced into unwittingly laundering money by being forced to open bank accounts. Additionally, criminal groups have been specifically targeting elderly individuals, resorting to direct threats to obtain identification documents.
The four prominent financial crime trends identified in the operation include the exploitation of vulnerable migrants, a surge in bank impersonation crimes primarily targeting the elderly, the fraudulent use of artificial intelligence to generate fake identities, and the targeting of younger individuals with online payment methods such as gift cards.
Of particular concern is the criminals' adoption of artificial intelligence to create fraudulent identities, allowing them to circumvent Know Your Customer (KYC) security measures during the online account creation process. Another concerning trend involves criminals enticing younger individuals with online payment methods, subsequently utilizing them as money mules in various fraudulent schemes.
Operation EMMA, officially titled "EMMA9" (European Money Mule Action), has yielded substantial results, including the identification of 10,759 money mules, 474 recruiters/herders, and the arrest of 1,013 individuals. The operation uncovered 10,736 fraudulent transactions, with the support of 2,822 banks and financial institutions. Financial losses resulting from these activities amounted to €100 million, while preventive measures managed to stop €32 million in losses.
Europol, one of the coordinating law enforcement agencies, emphasized that the primary objective of Operation EMMA is to make it more challenging for criminals to operate and conceal the flow of their illicit earnings. The operation, now in its ninth year, underscores the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors. The European Banking Federation (EBF) has been a crucial industry partner since the initiative's inception in 2016. Europol emphasized that the goal is to enhance cross-border information exchange to combat money mule networks, prevent financial losses, and raise awareness about the widespread nature of this problem.
By fLEXI tEAM