Mexico blocks a criminal network duplicating tourists' bank cards

FIU's 'Operation Caribbean' identifies 79 Romanian and Mexican suspects who tampered with several ATMs near tourist hotels along the country's coastline.

Mexico blocks a criminal network duplicating tourists' bank cards
Beware of scam. Image by Sebastian Ganso from Pixabay

The Financial Intelligence Unit has announced this Thursday that the accounts of 79 people linked to a card cloning network in ATMs in the Riviera Maya have been blocked.

The director of the Financial Intelligence Unit, Santiago Nieto, has informed on his social networks that the suspects are Romanians and Mexicans who operated in the tourist area of Cancun, Quintana Roo, and were being investigated in Operation Caribbean.

The modus operandi of the network is similar to the organization dismantled in 2019 that for five years stole $240 million annually thanks to the installation of devices in ATMs on the Mexican coast.

Operation Caribe includes the collaboration of Gabinete de Seguridad, the National Intelligence Center of the Secretariat of Security and Citizen Protection, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in addition to the Financial Intelligence Unit.

With the collaboration between the institutions, it was possible to identify the suspects and block up to 79 accounts of Mexicans and Romanians of a criminal network with an operations center in Cancun. However, the network has expanded to other tourist areas such as Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, and the Riviera Nayarit.

The Financial Intelligence Unit has detailed that the criminal organization is dedicated to tampering with ATMs in tourist hotels in the Riviera Maya. The criminals install devices in the machines to steal the bank card data of visitors who use them to withdraw cash. With the stolen data they manage to duplicate the cards and steal money from the tourists' accounts, operating under the name of front companies belonging to the same criminal organization.

The modus operandi mimics the criminal network dismantled in 2019, which for five years tampered with ATMs in Mexico's main tourist destinations and collected $240 million annually before being disbanded.

The investigations focused on studying the movement of international money from the accounts. A total of 277 unusual banking transactions of amounts up to 337.5 million pesos (about $16.5 million) were analyzed and another 520 relevant transaction reports for more than 125.5 million pesos (just over $6 million) in international transfers were analyzed. In addition, the network issued 1,834 checks for more than 150 million pesos ($7.36 million) and received another 700 for similar amounts.

The Security Cabinet provided the Financial Intelligence Unit with several intelligence reports prepared over months. They detailed the activity of the main leaders, financial operators, family members, companies, lawyers, as well as various public servants operating in the corruption networks that favored the duplication of the cards and the theft of their data.

With the help of the FBI, it was possible to locate a large number of members of the criminal group, as well as its major financial operators and companies used in money laundering.