Criminal network distributing fake travel documents on the dark web busted

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An investigation by the French border police (Police aux Frontières/Police Judiciaire which is part of the national police) and the Spanish national police (Policía Nacional), supported by Europol, led officers to dismantle an organized criminal group involved in the market and distribution of false identity documents and travel documents in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The Georgian authorities also supported the investigation by sharing information.

Days of action in France and Spain between January 31 and February 16 resulted in 17 arrests. The seizures included electronic equipment (computers, smartphones and storage devices), counterfeit and genuine IDs and photocopies of IDs, work certificates, administrative documents, payment cards and cash.

The criminal network distributed false identity and travel documents in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. The documents have been used by other criminals involved in the smuggling of migrants to the US, UK and Ireland and other criminal activities (such as property crimes, human trafficking , drug traffic). The criminal network was directly involved in migrant smuggling activities and logistical arrangements in exchange for payments starting at 8,000 euros per person.

The members of the criminal network, mainly from Eastern European countries, operated in several countries including France, Germany, Georgia, Italy, Lithuania and Spain. The criminal network distributed the forged documents widely on the dark web, but also on instant messaging apps and postal services. They mainly forged French, Romanian, Georgian, Lithuanian and Polish identity documents. They also forged residence permits, driving licenses, vehicle registration documents and travel documents. The suspects used messaging apps to communicate and exchange images of documents, vehicles and money transfer slips. Europol analysts were able to use information from this case to reveal many links to other ongoing investigations, based on information they already had.

Europol prioritized the case at an early stage and appointed a dedicated analyst and specialist to support national investigations. Europol then facilitated the secure exchange of information and the organization of operational meetings between investigators, also providing law enforcement partners with regular intelligence analysis packages. During the day of action, Europol deployed an expert to Spain to help cross-check operational information with Europol’s databases and to provide technical assistance for data extraction and analysis of digital evidence.

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