Credits: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The 61 arrest warrants in the Montreal and Toronto area make it one of the largest such busts in Canada. Suspects are accused of funnelling money to Tunisia, Malaysia, Australia and Europe.
Canadian banks had complained in 2008 about clients whose accounts were being drained on a regular basis.
The RCMP says crooks would walk into a store near closing time and pick an opportune moment to unplug the point-of-sale terminal and replace it with a bogus unit.
The criminals would leave the area, download client-card information from the stolen units and replace them the following day.
The pilfered information would be used to manufacture bogus cards that could be used to drain a victim's account, say the Mounties.
Police took the unusual step of charging half of the suspects with gangsterism.
Most card-cloning busts in Canada have targeted loosely-organized local groups but RCMP Sgt. Guy Pilon said this one appears to have a hierarchical organization divided into cells that answered to ringleaders.
"We were not confronted with a loose group of individuals," he told a news conference.
"(They are) a well-organized group of criminals who had the means ... and their criminal activities reached well beyond our borders."
The Mounties, aided by provincial and local police, fanned out Wednesday morning to make raids in Montreal and several bedroom communities to the north.
At least 45 people had been arrested as of mid-morning and a steady stream of suspects, mostly of Arab and Sri Lankan descent, were being booked in Montreal. Police plan to lay 368 charges including fraud and identity theft.
RCMP Sgt. Christian Lamarre told QMI Agency the operation caps a lengthy probe that included a series of raids in November 2010.
"(Back then we) carried out 34 raids, notably in Montreal, Quebec City and even Vancouver," he said of the earlier operation.