The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee on September 3 approved plans to combat fraud and counterfeiting of non-cash means of payment such as cards, electronic wallets, mobile payments and virtual currencies.

MEPs stressed that gaps and differences among EU countries’ laws can hamper prevention, detection and punishment of these crimes.

“Digitalisation has transformed the way we pay,” said Rapporteur Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann (S&D, DE). “As non-cash payments are used more and more, criminals exploit loopholes in the current rules. In today’s vote we managed to harmonise the definitions of online crime offences throughout the EU, introduce a minimum level for penalties for them and improve the protection of victims of non-cash fraud.”

According to MEP Nuno Melo, the EPP Group’s spokesman on the dossier, technological developments brought their own commodities, including easier means of payment. “However, such developments should be accompanied by updated legislation that prevents criminals from taking advantage of any loopholes,” he said. “Today’s vote is a step in this direction: to ensure that Member States have the necessary tools and regulations to combat fraud in the use of non-cash payments.”

The draft report, which overhauls current rules passed in 2001, was approved by 31 votes to 1, with no abstentions.

According to a European Parliament press release, the new rules would establish five, four or three years of prison, depending on the offence, as the minimum penalty in cases where a judge imposes the national “maximum” custodial sentence for non-cash payment fraud. The new rules will also include virtual-currency transactions in the scope of offences, and improve EU-wide cooperation to ensure cross-border frauds are better dealt with.

The new rules will also strengthen assistance to non-cash fraud victims, such as psychological support, advice on financial, practical and legal matters and free legal aid at least for those who lack sufficient resources for it. Another feature is to improve prevention and awareness-raising through campaigning, education and permanent on-line information tools with practical examples of fraud cases.

The committee also approved a mandate to start informal talks with the Council, which can start as soon as Parliament as a whole gives its green light.