10/29/2013 11:41 EDT | Updated 12/29/2013 05:12 EST

Quebec police uncover Montreal-based debit card fraud ring

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 SûretéduQuébec 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. The information was decrypted by a specialist in Quebec, allowing the suspects to produce fake cards and withdraw cash from unsuspecting victims’ accounts.

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