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Euro-cops shut down crypto scam that bilked millions from unwitting punters

If the investment opportunity sounds too good to be true …

European cops arrested 15 suspected scammers and shut down a multi-country network of call centers selling fake cryptocurrency that law enforcement said stole upwards of hundreds of million euros from victims.

The scammers tricked their victims into investing large sums of money into fake cryptocurrency schemes according to Europol, which became involved in the investigation in June 2022 at the behest of German law enforcement agencies.

The criminals advertised these phony investment opportunities on social media, luring the victims to websites that were controlled by the miscreants that promised too-good-to-be-true crypto investment opportunities. The crooks first convinced the victims to invest low, three-digit sums. Then, using the lure of fake price hikes and lucrative profits, the criminals enticed their victims to transfer larger amounts.

Most of the victims were from Germany, and the scammers bilked these individuals alone out of more than €2 million ($2.2 million), according to the police. However, others in Switzerland, Australia and Canada also lost money in the scam. 

"The investigation suggests that the number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher," Europol warned. "This would mean that the illegal gains generated by the criminal groups, with at least four call centers in eastern Europe, may be in the hundreds of millions of euros."

In addition to arresting 14 suspects in Serbia and one in Germany, law enforcement questioned 261 individuals in Bulgaria, Cyprus, German and Serbia, some of whom are awaiting prosecution.

The police across the four countries searched 22 locations including the four call centers, 11 homes in Serbia and two in Cyprus, as well as two companies and three residences in Bulgaria.

Additionally, they seized three hardware wallets with about $1 million in cryptocurrencies, as well as 50,000 euros ($54,256.50) in cash, three vehicles, electronic equipment, data backups and documents.

The arrests and call center takedowns follow a similar operation in March during which Latvian and Lithuanian police detained more than 100 people suspected of being involved in an international call center scam. 

In this earlier scheme, hundreds of fake "traders" who spoke English, Russian, Polish and Hindi would call victims to talk them into parting with their savings with the promise of lucrative investment opportunities in Bitcoin, foreign currencies and commodities. 

Of course, these offers were all fake. The only ones getting rich were the crooks, which Europol said made an illegal profit of more than three million euros per month off of the scam. ®

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