Quebec police have arrested dozens of people who are believed to be members of a Montreal-based crime network linked to an international fraud scheme.

The alleged scam, related to counterfeit payment cards and bogus banking machines, is estimated to have involved close to $100 million.

More than 40 suspects were arrested after police conducted several Wednesday morning raids in the Montreal area, RCMP Sgt. Chris Lamarre told

At least a dozen other suspects are still wanted on arrest warrants.

The suspects face 368 charges including gangsterism, fraud, identity theft and participation in a criminal organization.

According to the RCMP, in Canada it's rare for criminal organization charges to be laid in a fraud-related investigation.

Police claim that members of the Montreal-based network stole payment card machines from businesses and replaced them with phony devices.

It's alleged that the suspects altered the original machines to clone debit and credit card information before returning them to businesses the next morning.

The technology installed in the modified machines allowed the suspects to download sensitive credit and debit card information, according to police.

All that personal data was allegedly used to produce counterfeit payment cards and withdraw money from the bank accounts of those affected.

Police said dozens of so-called "runners" would fan out to bank locations carrying lock-boxes filled with counterfeit cards. The runners would all be given the combinations at the same time, and then start using the cards in a robbery blitz.

"They visited 23 banks, they did 203 transactions and they were able to obtain $30,000 all in five minutes," RCMP Staff Sgt. Yves LeBlanc told CTV Montreal. "This went on once, twice, sometimes three times a day. It went on maybe four to five times a week."

All affected customers have had their funds reimbursed, police said.

Lamarre said the crime network is believed to have accomplices in British Columbia and Ontario as well as abroad in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Tunisia and England.

To zero in on the suspects, the RCMP said it worked in concert with Surete du Quebec and various other police forces.

An investigation into the alleged scheme began in 2008 by the RCMP's Integrated Counterfeit Enforcement Team, which is tasked with looking into various types of counterfeiting activity. The probe was triggered by complaints from store owners.

More than 80 searches have been conducted as part of the probe. As a result, a number of items have been seized, including:

  • More than 12,000 counterfeit bank cards
  • Close to 200 "point-of-sale" terminals
  • More than 1,000 items used for machine tampering
  • Several payment card readers, encoders and embossers.

Other items included about $120,000 in Canadian and U.S. currency, as well as mobile phones, vehicles and weapons.

With the remaining suspects still at large, police have urged store owners to ensure payment card machines are anchored down and inspected often.

With a report from CTV Montreal's Derek Conlon