Quebec police have arrested 16 people and are carrying out more than 20 search warrants today as part of Project Lorgnette, an international debit card fraud scheme based in Montreal.

The scheme bilked $12-million from more than 30,000 debit card users in Europe, Quebec provincial police said Tuesday morning.

About 150 police officers from Laval and Longueuil as well as the Sûreté du Québec participated in the Tuesday morning operation

The investigation began in August 2012 and led to searches in Montreal, Laval, Longueuil, Magog, Chambly and Boucherville.

A 33-year-old man from Boucherville is accused of being the ringleader. 

Police said the suspects would switch point-of-sale debit card terminals in European grocery stores for fraudulent ones using a duffel bag with a false bottom containing the tampered-with machines. 

Once the terminals were switched, the fraudsters could access debit card and PIN numbers.

"Then the information was sent to Quebec, where the head of the organization decrypted the information of the bank cards," said Sgt. Joyce Kemp of the SQ.

"Then it was sent abroad again, where the counterfeit cards were made, and then the fraudsters would use the cards to take the money out of the victims' bank accounts," she continued.

The suspects are expected in court this afternoon and face possible fraud and conspiracy charges.