Over 400 aggravated means of payment frauds related to online banking scams referred to prosecutor for consideration of charges

Publication date 5.6.2023 12.28
News item

The National Bureau of Investigation and the Southwestern Finland Police Department have finished a criminal investigation into online banking frauds. The suspect, who is a man in his twenties, has been remanded since December 2022. The complex investigation has links to a wider criminal phenomenon in which Finnish people have lost millions of euros in recent years.

The National Bureau of Investigation and the Southwestern Finland Police have investigated, in collaboration with other police departments, a criminal case in which a young person is suspected of over 400 aggravated means of payment frauds. According to the criminal investigation, the suspect carried out phishing attacks mainly against S-Bank customers in 2022. The victims have lost more than a million euros in total.

– The phishing scams were carried out by means of fake bank websites. This case is just what people have been warned about, in other words, that online banks should never be logged into via links in text messages, says the tactical leader of the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Matti Airaksinen of the National Bureau of Investigation.

All the offences investigated in the case were committed in a similar manner and mostly from abroad. The victims were deceived by sending them a text message containing a link to a fake bank website reminding a genuine online banking site. These messages were prepared so that they looked like being sent by the real bank. 

The text messages implied that the matter was urgent and explained why the victim should log into their online bank without delay via the link in the message. The suspect had access to the victim’s banking codes when the victim visited the fake website and entered the codes to log into their online bank.

Phishing site servers located in Moldova

In summer 2022, the Southwestern Finland Police noticed a significant increase in phishing scams against S-Bank customers. They found out that most of the phishing site servers were located in Moldova. 

– Our cooperation with Europol and the authorities of Moldova further supported our idea as to the technical method of commission of the offences and the fact that the offender was the same as in several other cyber-enabled banking frauds across Finland. The same young man was also connected with money laundering offences reported in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, the predicate offences of which included bank frauds, says Cybercrime Investigation Team Leader, Detective Sergeant Jami Toivonen of the Southwestern Finland Police Department.

The Police Departments of Helsinki, Central Finland, Southwestern Finland and Eastern Uusimaa had been investigating offences with links to one and the same suspect, and in winter 2022 the criminal investigation was taken over by the investigation team of the National Bureau of Investigation and the Southwestern Finland Police. 

The suspect was apprehended in December 2022, and he has been remanded since on probable cause of aggravated means of payment frauds.

The criminal investigation of a total of 421 aggravated means of payment frauds has been referred to the Prosecution District of Southern Finland for consideration of charges. The prosecutor appointed for the case is Senior Specialised Prosecutor Katja Jokela.

Links to money laundering in Helsinki Metropolitan Area

The police suspect that many money launderers aided in concealing the funds of bank fraud victims by transferring funds to foreign accounts and converting them to cryptocurrency. Funds were also circulated from the accounts that had been accessed by means of bank frauds.

– We believe that the main suspect also had a role in organising the laundering of the proceeds of crime. Besides accessing accounts through crime, several other people, including young people, were lured into the money laundering activity by belittling the responsibility involved it, says Head of Investigation, Senior Detective Superintendent Jukkapekka Risu of the Helsinki Police Department. 

The suspected money laundering offences were committed in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. They are investigated as separate cases mainly by the Helsinki and Eastern Uusimaa Police Departments. Some of the money laundering offences related to the case have already been investigated and considered by the court. 

New types of crime indicate a changing operating environment – a wider phenomenon

The crime statistics of the police show that this case is exceptional. The number of offences referred to the prosecutor, i.e. over 400 aggravated means of payment frauds, is approximately the same as the number of aggravated means of payment frauds recorded in the information system of police matters in 2022.

– This criminal investigation reflects the changing operating environment of the police. Cyber-enabled crime challenges traditional methods of combating crime. Crimes such as these are mainly committed by professional and organised criminals and, thus, planned so that it would be as difficult as possible to investigate them, says Detective Chief Inspector Airaksinen.

According to information available to the National Bureau of Investigation, Finnish people lost around ten million euros as a result of cyber-enabled bank frauds in 2021. In that same year, the police set up a national investigation team to tackle the phenomenon. In 2022, the amount of money lost by Finnish people almost halved.

– Although the sums lost by fraud have been reduced and cases have been solved, people should recognise the phenomenon and watch out for cyber-enabled crime. Crime prevention is the best way to avoid harm and financial loss. The police are determined to continue to fight this crime, says Chief Superintendent Mikko Kiiski of the National Police Board.

– The persistent and systematic work done during this criminal investigation has improved the effectiveness of the investigation of this type of crime. The cooperation between the authorities and the bank sector that was introduced during the investigation will make it even more difficult to benefit from crime. Furthermore, as a result of this criminal investigation and fight against the phenomenon, hidden crime has been detected more clearly than before, says Chief Superintendent Kiiski thanking all those involved in the investigation.

Don’t become a victim of fraud, give advice to your family and friends

  • Do not log into your online bank via links in text or email messages or search engine results.
  • Add the address of your online bank to bookmarks or favourites.
  • Use the mobile application of your own bank as it is the most secure option.
  • Tell your family and friends about the phenomenon.

If you suspect that criminals have had access to your online banking codes, or if you see incoming or outgoing payments that do not belong to your online bank, first contact your bank immediately and then report the crime to the police.

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