In the cybercrime capital of the world, authorities are cracking down on crime dens with tentacles reaching Australian shores.
The biggest crackdown on cyber crooks in history is being staged in cities and villages scattered across Romania in eastern Europe.
In the raids more than 100 people were rounded up for scams worth hundreds of millions of dollars.More stories from Today Tonight
And among the victims are hundreds of Australians, despite being 15,000 kilometres away.
Paul Hack was conned by a Romanian eBay scam, paying $600 for a product that didn't exist.
“I was scammed. They were advertising a multiple number of iPad 2s for sale at about $100 or $150 cheaper than the recommended retail price, which I thought was in the realms of being in a realistic deal," Hack said.
It was the perfect rip off, but Hack wasn't the only victim.
“It could be up to 50 people scammed like myself, and it’s easy to multiply that by the $600 - the scam could’ve been $30,000 that they’ve just pulled up."
Matt Waite was another Romanian eBay scam victim with another fictitious product offered at a reduced price.
“I lost $799 and it was for a fairly top of the range Bosch dishwasher."
Romania has a massive problem that is hitting Australia and other parts of the world every day - here cybercrime is a full time profession.
The Chief Commissioner for the cybercrime unit in Romania doesn't want to be identified. In fact no police in the country are willing to show their faces.
It's not from fear, but due to the ongoing undercover operations to smash the rings, as crooks step up their internet cons."Australia is one of the countries that people can target for getting money, of course, from criminal activities like cyber crime," the Chief Commissioner said.
"Cybercrime in Romania is a serious problem. It's a big priority for the Romanian police because we see a huge increase in the cyber activities in Romania," he explained.
"I think we see a movement in the last two years. A movement in that the criminals are interested more in big amounts of money, not small amounts in more frauds. They are moving from targeting people for small amounts of money, to cases where they are targeting companies or financial institutions, where they can get databases of big amounts of money."
If you track down the world wide web of scams, you end up at a small city in outback Romania.
Ramnicu Valcea has been nicknamed ‘Hackersville’. Nestled in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps, the city of 100,000 people is one of the most important cybercrime towns in the world.
It's dripping with wealth, and there are more expensive cars than you would ever see in an Australian town of the same size, with Mercedes, Audis and BMWs everywhere you look.
Ramnicu Valcea has a Western Union or money wire service on almost every street corner.There are also half a dozen casinos – a convenient way to wash dirty money.
There are also dozens of expensive nightclubs for the nouveau riche to splash out.
The town survives almost solely on cybercrime and more scams are hatched here than anywhere else in the world.
Ramnicu Valcea has become an international hub for organised internet crime gangs.
Everything from identity theft and bogus eBay car sales, to skimming, phony credit card rackets can be found here.Romanian cyber law expert Bogdan Manolae believes organised crime is hiding cybercrimes behind other business fronts.
"Because it gets more and more complicated, so people are also trying to hide their activities via what seem to be legitimate activities. Sometimes they are doing more crimes than one," he said.
The recent raids have targeted credit card fraud and eBay scams primarily - conmen selling fictitious cheap cars, white goods, and iPads - taking money and simply vanishing.
Others are stealing identities from phony credit card rackets targeting Australians on the net.And it’s our obsession with internet shopping that has made Australians easy targets for Romanian shysters.
According to the Commissioner "most of the time they are selling them on different forums on the internet and websites."
In the town almost every minute a royalty payment is taken for an identity they just don't own, and have sold down the line.So far more than 40 million people worldwide have lost their identities.
Detective Superintendent Brian Hay is operations commander of the Queensland fraud and corporate crime group, working closely with his Romanian counterpart to catch cyber crooks that are costing Australians dearly.
“It’s massive. I mean it's not quantifiable in an accurate sense, so vast is the extensiveness of their pervasiveness. They're insidious tentacles, they reach into major organisations, businesses, no one really has an accurate idea of just what has occurred,” he said.“They have ripped us all for millions, and you've got to understand that when they skim your ATM card, and they take your plastic details, it's not just the fact that they can clean your account out of whatever cash you have at that point in time, but they've got your identity, and they'll sell that again, and they'll sell it again, and they'll sell it again."
A Romanian hacker showed a local television program here how easy it is to steal private information.
Armed with a portable scanning device and a laptop he goes into a major shopping centre and simply lifts people's information straight off their smart phones, even while they are doing their banking.He has dozens and dozens of stolen bank accounts on his laptop that he can raid at his leisure.
Jilava prison is 30 minutes from the capital Bucharest. It is a prison made famous by the former Ceausescu communist regime for housing political prisoners, and it's now home to fraudsters and internet crooks.Conmen like Tufa Sorin - who posed as an undercover policeman to get people’s credit and debit cards, then cloned them on a small skimming machine, and raided their bank accounts.
In his own words, Sorin describes that "by pretending I was doing a routine check up I was telling them that I am here to protect them, prevent any crimes being made. I was advising them to be careful."
“I was taking their money on their trust," he said.The Romanian fraudster targeted tourists and is now serving ten years behind bars.
He admits to earning €100,000 through his hacking. About €10,000 in one hit.Around the world crack cyber teams are trying to outsmart the Romanian internet thieves. So far it's been a losing battle.
For every two who get arrested, another twenty are popping up to take their place, lured by the easy money.
But while cyber crooks may never be stopped, they can be hindered enough to make them find easier targets than Australia.
“You need to understand that to protect yourself in the cyber environment, it all starts with you. You've got to think about your behaviour, you've got to make sure that your system is secure, that it's up to date, and you've got to make a conscious effort to reduce the chance that you're going to be falling victim to these criminals," Detective Superintendent Hay concluded.This reporter is on Twitter at @RichoTT7
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