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Nearly 200 'money mules' held in Europe-wide laundering sting

Police forces across Europe and the US have arrested 178 people as part of a money laundering crackdown. The operation was intended to tackle the growing issue of online payment and card fraud.

Police forces across Europe and the US have arrested 178 people as part of a money laundering crackdown. The operation was intended to tackle the growing issue of online payment and card fraud.

The international swoop, which took place last week, targeted so-called "money mules" who helped launder millions of dollars, the European Union judicial agency Eurojust said on Tuesday.

Working together with Europol, the EU's police force, some 580 suspected "money mules" were identified, leading to 178 of them being detained.

Mules are recruited by criminal gangs to act as laundering agents. Mules accept illicit funds by money transfer, and then pass them on to crime gangs. They are often paid with a cut of the proceeds.

"After receiving the illegally-obtained funds into their accounts, the individuals acting as money mules are asked to wire the money into a different account," said a joint statement, from the two agencies and the European Banking Federation.

Mules often oblivious

"These schemes are often disguised as legitimate job opportunities and the mules may keep some of the money for themselves as a commission," it said, adding that an estimated 23 million euros was laundered globally.

Many mules are unaware they are committing a crime and could end up facing charges.

On Monday, several countries began a 4-day prevention campaign to warn the public about the consequences of "money muling."

Cyber security analysts described in a report at the weekend how criminals had used malicious software to rig cash machines in more than a dozen European countries to spit out cash.

Russian cyber security firm Group IB described how recent heists in Europe and Asia were run from central, remote command centers, enabling criminals to target large numbers of ATM machines in "smash and grab" operations that seek to drain large amounts of cash before banks uncover the hacks.

Group IB declined to name banks that were "jackpotted," a term used to describe forcing ATMs to eject the cash.

Multi-nation investigation

Along with the three EU agencies, police forces in 14 EU countries, as well as Ukraine and Moldova, along with the FBI and US Secret Service took part in last week's operation.

The agencies said 95 percent of all the money mule transactions were linked to cybercrime.

"It is important to understand that money laundering may on the surface seem to be a small crime, but it is orchestrated by organized crime groups," Eurojust chief Michele Coninsx said.

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mm/kl (AFP, Reuters)

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