Fujairah, UAE: Unusually high electricity bills led police to the arrest of criminal gang members behind an extensive online fraud and money laundering operations inside two rented villas here.
The electricity bills far exceeded the average power consumption limits of similar properties, especially since they are rented by only two persons, and suggested the presence of a large number of energy users.
Investigations revealed the existence of an organised criminal group running electronic fraud and money laundering operations, using the two villas as their base.
Police found a large number of phones and computers used in a well-orchestrated cyber crime activity. Authorities in Fujairah were made aware of a criminal ring when unusually high electricity bills came for the two villas.
One bill, amounting to Dh23,000 (about $6,262), caught the attention of the authorities, who then launched an investigation.
Fraud, money laundering
It was discovered that an organised crime group had been using the villas as their base for electronic fraud and money laundering operations.
The criminal gang members had set up fake websites to trick people and collect money by promising them hefty profits. The authorities raided the villas and seized several computers and phones, which was used as evidence for the cyber crime activity.
Following the investigation, Fujairah Federal Court handed down its verdict.
The 10 defendants, all of Asian nationality, were sentenced to five years in prison and fined Dh5 million.
The commercial company that sponsored their residence, and provided them with the villas and vehicles, was also fined Dh5 million.
It was confirmed that they had fraudulently collected sums of money, by calling people with foreign numbers, claiming to represent a company marketing various products.
The defendants transferred the amounts paid by the victims into encrypted digital currencies, through electronic wallets, claiming that they generate huge profits.
They reinforced their allegations by creating fake websites that made the victims believe the information they provided.
The 10 defendants — and another unidentified person — also created links to websites designed to facilitate the commission of the crime of fraud, managed and supervised the web domains, and carried out acts of acquiring, possessing and using funds, knowing the illegal nature of their source.
Organised crime group
The defendants committed the crime of “money laundering through an organised criminal group” by transferring, concealing and hiding the true proceeds of the crimes, they possessed and used it after receiving it in cash and through electronic transfers.
They had used part of it, intending thereby to conceal its illicit source.
One of the defendants had rented a villa in Fujairah; the other villa was rented in the name of the other defendant. Another co-accused is the owner of the commercial company that sponsored them, and provided them with vehicles to facilitate their illegal activities.
The commercial establishment participated with the defendants in committing the crimes, as it was used to hide the money obtained from the crimes, and sponsored some of the defendants to reside in the country.
The high average monthly power bill indicated the presence of a large number of people and devices used inside.
After the devices — fixed and portable computers, mobile phones, storage tools, and others — were confiscated, they were sent to digital forensics experts, who confirmed the digital evidence extracted from the devices showed the sites used by the accused, the method of their communication with the victims, and the digital currencies used in fraud operations.
The experts report stated that the examination revealed 35,919 images, which are conversations via the “WhatsApp” program, and a number of electronic wallets that show the method in which the defendants practiced their operations.
The report also listed videos that reveal ways to defraud victims.