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33 charged in $2M cross-Canada fraud investigation

Police have charged 33 people with over 200 fraud offences after dismantling a massive, cross-provincial criminal ring responsible for defrauding banks and average citizens alike out of over $2 million.

Police say complex fraud ring involved hundreds of victims and millions of dollars

Police displayed parts of a complex "ID lab" at Hamilton police station Friday while they announced the arrests of 33 people in a cross-Canada fraud investigation. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Police have charged 33 people with over 200 fraud offences after dismantling a massive, cross-provincial criminal ring responsible for defrauding banks and average citizens alike out of over $2 million.

Though many people are already in custody, officials still don't know if the victims will see their money ever again.

Investigation into the bust dubbed "Operation Springston" started in Hamilton and quickly spread to Halton and the Greater Toronto Area, but also included fraudulent transactions in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

"This project sends a clear and strong message that identity fraud and theft will not be tolerated," said acting Superintendent Ryan Diodati from Hamilton police.

Someone has taken their lives away.- Halton Police Superintendent Martin Power

The investigation started when people from Hamilton started coming to police with complaints of identity theft.

A deeper dive revealed an organized crime group who used electronic techniques like malware (software that can damage a computer or steal personal information) and phishing (posing as a legitimate company in emails or online to steal information) to take control of people's banking services.

Members of the crime ring were then able to order or redirect new cheques and bank cards without the victim knowing, and create fake IDs to help their cause.

"The victims definitely feel violated," said Halton Police Superintendent Martin Power. "Someone has taken their lives away."

Police say a "freelance forger" was churning out some "very good to excellent" fake IDs for criminal organizations. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Last week police executed six search warrants in Ontario and two in Quebec connected to the case. One of the places searched in Toronto revealed a sophisticated counterfeit ID lab that was churning out some "excellent" forgeries, says Det. Sgt. Rob Krzyzaniak.

The man running it was actually working as a "freelance forger" for many criminal circles, Krzyzaniak said.

"It's a significant blow not only to this organization, but also to anyone who used him," he said.

Large quantities of supplies and equipment that could be used to make fake IDs were seized, alongside $30,000 cash. 

Seven people from the Hamilton area were among those arrested, with five more local suspects still outstanding.

But even though many of the accused are in custody, Malcolm Chivers from the Canadian Bankers Association couldn't say if any of the victims will ever get their money back.

Each loss will have to be "taken up at a later date," he said.

"We will look at that as a priority for the banking industry."

adam.carter@cbc.ca | @AdamCarterCBC

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