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Police suspect Finnish man in Sweden of massive fraud operation with 40 accomplices

Police say the main perpetrator fraudulently obtained online identity credentials, which he used to buy large quantities of consumer electronics and collect improper tax refunds.

Detective Superintendent Hannu Kortelainen of the Helsinki Police is heading up the investigation. Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

Helsinki police suspect a Finnish man living in Sweden of leading a criminal ring that operated in Finland.

The man is estimated to have defrauded online shops and official websites using robust online identity credentials obtained from a circle of accomplices.

The police suspect that the man, who lives in Sweden, sent other Finns living there to Finland, where they registered new local addresses with the Digital and Population Data Services Agency. They then opened bank accounts and returned to Sweden with Finnish online banking credentials, which can be used to log into official sites and for online shopping.

The main perpetrator used these credentials to buy large quantities of consumer electronics. In addition, he took out some 200,000 euros in consumer loans and received a similar sum in unwarranted tax refunds from the Finnish Tax Administration, according to Detective Superintendent Hannu Kortelainen of the Helsinki Police, who is leading the investigation.

Hundreds of thousands in fake VAT refunds

The criminal group's suspected kingpin used the online banking credentials to set up a company, then applied for unjustified VAT refunds from the Tax Administration.

The man and his dozens of accomplices are suspected of more than 150 crimes, including aggravated fraud, aggravated tax fraud, money laundering and registration offences. 

According to the preliminary investigation, the main suspect earned some 800,000 euros in ill-gotten gains over four years, while only giving small sums to his accomplices, Kortelainen told Yle.

The ringleader is suspected to have had some 30 accomplices based in Sweden and about 10 others in Finland. The men and women ranged in age from 26 to 67.

"According to our investigations, these people have had substance abuse and social problems, all kinds of problems. So their need for money has been obvious. They agreed to carry out this kind of activity for a small compensation," he said.

The kingpin also promised jobs in the Finnish tourism industry to four people living in Central Europe. As a prerequisite for starting the purported jobs, he instructed them to register to move to Finland and file their new addresses with the Digital and Population Data Services Agency. 

He then told them to open bank accounts – and hand over the online banking credentials to him. He used these to make unpaid purchases worth tens of thousands of euros.

The four Central European residents are suspected of aggravated fraud for handing over their online banking credentials.

MacBooks and musical instruments

Police say the main perpetrator bought musical instruments and large amounts of consumer electronics, especially Apple phones, tablets and laptops. He had some delivered to R-kiosks around Finland, where his accomplices would pick them up. Other items were delivered to the home addresses of his Finnish cohorts, who then brought them to him in Sweden. Police assume he then resold most of the items.

The bills remained unpaid, with the collaborators oblivious to the fact that online purchases had been made in their names. In some cases, the companies swallowed their losses, while some invoices ended up in foreclosure. Some of the confederates ended up having their credit ratings ruined, but "no one was actually held responsible for these actions," said Kortelainen.

Kortelainen said that police were "lucky" to uncover the scam operation.

"These kinds of crimes aren't usually reported, so we don't know how common they are. We were just lucky that a bank's fraud unit contacted us after they noticed unusual account traffic between certain accounts," he said.

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