THE Policia Nacional has arrested 39 members of a criminal gang specialising in banking and financial fraud.

The crooks swindled around €250,000 out of 140 bank accounts by assuming the identities of the actual clients.

The gang, based in Madrid and Toledo provinces, included specialist pickpockets that went onto public transport to steal identity documents.

The stolen papers were used to fool banks into opening new accounts and to get finance for new high-end cars that were sold off on the black market in North Africa.

Vehicles were quickly put on ferries to countries like Algeria before money lenders realised they were duped.

Police raids on 15 addresses uncovered over 300 stolen Spanish identity papers as well as jewellery, drugs, and an array of computers and mobile phones.

The gang’s boss was in charge of allocating tasks to his team, including sending out people to visit banks with the stolen identity papers.

They would even change their appearance to make sure they looked like the people in the ID photos to either open new accounts or to ask for changes to their contact details to allow them access the account of the person they were impersonating.

Cash withdrawals or transfers were made to third-party accounts held by the gang which were difficult for authorities to track down- even if a victim reported what had happened to the police and a hijacked account was blocked.

The gang leader paid his staff in either cash or drugs and would recruit team members from disadvantaged backgrounds so that he could exert maximum control over them.

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