Three suspects were arrested in northwest Germany’s Lower Saxony as part of an investigation into a nationwide gang of online banking fraudsters, the public prosecutor’s office in the city of Verden and the Hanover police announced on Friday.
The three suspects were being investigated for commercial computer fraud and were said to belong to the group of five main suspects, four men and one woman.
The German investigators announced that they had succeeded in “striking a blow” against the group of fraudsters, which was said to have illegally obtained online access data from customers of various banks since at least November 2018.
Since February, specialists from the cybercrime department of the Verden public prosecutor’s office and an investigation team specialized in cybercrime from the Hanover police department have been investigating the group
The five were suspected of having illegally obtained replacement SIM cards for the mobile phones of bank account holders through which they could then be sent the transaction numbers (TANs) required for online transfers.
By transferring money from the accounts of the injured parties to bank accounts specially created for this purpose under false personal details or to the accounts of front men, the perpetrators stole more than 1.5 million euros (1.67 million U.S. dollars), according to the German public prosecutor.
The perpetrators then exchanged almost all the money for the untraceable digital currency Bitcoins, the Lower Saxony public prosecutor’s office said.
The suspects were arrested following police searches of sixteen residential and business premises in Lower Saxony as well as a building in Austria on Thursday.
The local German authorities announced that “extensive evidence” had been secured during the searches.
Two of the three arrested suspects were in custody in Lower Saxony and the public prosecutor said that an application to extradite the third suspect, who was arrested in a hotel in Salzburg, Austria, was currently under way.
Seven front men had to answer for suspicions of money laundering, the German investigators said, noting that “the investigations are ongoing.”
According to a recent survey by the Germany’s digital association Bitkom, 51 percent of all companies in Germany have been victims of digital industrial espionage, sabotage or data theft in the past two years.
Bitkom put “conservative calculations” of the damage caused to the German economy through such cyberattacks at around 51 billion euros per year.