European law enforcement agencies have dealt a blow to scammers running call centres across the continent that stole millions of Euros from cryptocurrency investors.
Crime-fighting authorities teamed up to tackle organised criminal groups who tricked unwary members of the public into investing in fake cryptocurrency schemes.
As Europol describes, a cross-border investigation resulted in 15 arrests on 11 January (14 in Serbia and one in Germany).
In addition, 261 individuals have been questioned in Bulgaria, Cyprus, German and Serbia, with 22 locations searched – including four call centres, two businesses, and 16 residences.
As a result of their raids, police have seized three vehicles, computer equipment, backups, and documents, as well as hardware wallets which they claim contain approximately US $1 million.
Europol, which has been involved in the investigation since mid-2022 after a request from German law enforcement, says that the suspects used social networking ads to drive traffic to bogus cryptocurrency investment websites.
The victims, who hailed mainly from Germany, would be initially duped into investing small sums of money. They would then be tricked into believing they had made significant profits and encouraged to transfer larger amounts of money into the fraudulent schemes.
Police believe that many of the victims of the scam will not have reported their losses, meaning that the call centres operated by the criminal groups may have managed to earn hundreds of millions of Euros.
The arrests and shutdown of the criminal call centres come amid a rising tide of scams involving cryptocurrency investment.
In October 2022, the FBI issued a warning about cryptocurrency investment scams (known as Pig butchering scams”) that trick unsuspecting members of the public (the so-called “pigs”) into making purported investments via a fake crypto site or app.
The bogus apps and websites give victims the false impression that their investments are growing exponentially, but when an attempt is made to withdraw funds, victims are told that they will need to pay a fee. Sometimes the website may entirely disappear.
It is not uncommon for fraudsters to pose as a long-lost contact of the victim or a potential romantic interest to trick them into making their initial investment.
The FBI advises that the public:
- Verifies the validity of any investment opportunity from strangers or long-lost contacts on social media websites.
- Be on the lookout for domain names that impersonate legitimate financial institutions, especially cryptocurrency exchanges.
- Be aware that misspelled URLs, often with a slight deviation from an actual financial institution’s website, may indicate that they are fake.
- Do not download or use suspicious-looking apps as investment tools unless the app’s legitimacy can be verified.
- Remember that if an investment opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be cautious of get-rich-quick schemes.