Europol op shutters 12 scam call centers and cuffs 21 suspected fraudsters

Cops prevented crims from bilking victims out of more than €10m - but couldn't stop crime against art

A Europol-led operation dubbed “Pandora” has shut down a dozen phone scam centers, and arrested 21 suspects. The cops reckon the action prevented criminals from bilking victims out of more than €10 million (£8.6 million, $11 million).

The criminal network, which operated call centers in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Lebanon, was responsible for "thousands" of daily scam calls, including fake police calls, investment scams, and romance cons.

And the thieves may have got away with swindling even more victims if it hadn't been for a bank teller in Germany.

Operation Pandora began in December 2023, when a customer asked a teller in Freiburg to withdraw more than €100,000 ($107,247) in cash. This request concerned the bank worker, who soon learned the customer had fallen for a fake police scam.

This type of fraud involves a criminal claiming to be a law enforcement officer to pressure victims into paying a large sum of money — usually with a false claim they have missed a fake court date and now face an arrest warrant unless they pay the fine, or some other made-up story.

Thanks to the teller, the bank customer alerted the actual police, who found and arrested the scammer.

Investigators then probed the victim's phone and discovered "that the telephone numbers used by the perpetrators could be linked to over 28,000 scam calls in only 48 hours," according to Europol.


Inside one scammer's call center ... note the tacky picture of criminals in the background. Source: Europol

Beginning in December 2023, German investigators deployed more than 100 officers to trace the scam calls back to the source - call centers run by crooks - and then monitored them. That effort resulted in the interception of more than 1.3 million "nefarious conversations."

Baden-Württemberg State Criminal Police officers had to set up a call center of their own so that they could contact potential victims, warning more than 80 percent of them. The cops estimate over the next four months they saved people over €10 million ($11 million), intercepted over 80 percent of the scam calls, and recorded over 7,500 calls so they could get a warrant for the raids.

They also traced where the calls originated and found that each country's illicit call centers focused on a different type of crime. Bosnia-Herzegovina specialized in debt-collection fraud, Kosovo was a hotspot for banking fraudsters, while Albania leaned into investment scams. Lebanon specialized in prepaid card fraud.

On April 18, more than 60 German officers, along with hundreds of cops in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Lebanon, swarmed "dozens" of homes and business. In addition to shutting down 12 call centers and arresting 21 individuals, police recovered data carriers, documents and other electronic evidence, plus cash and other assets totaling €1 million. ®

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