Europol and Eurojust announced today the arrest of five individuals believed to be part of a massive online investment fraud ring with at least 33,000 victims who lost an estimated €89 million (roughly $98 million).
The coordinated action took place across two action days in March and involved the search of 15 locations (including five illegal call centers) across Bulgaria, Romania, and Israel.
The fraudulent operation lured investors through web and social media banner ads, tricking their targets into committing small amounts of up to €250 as initial investments by promising big profits.
“The fraud scheme allegedly ran between 2019 and 2021, with the suspects of the operations in 2021 or their associates recently setting up call centres in Bulgaria and Romania.”
Victims were also pushed towards following the scammers’ advice by the very low-interest rates throughout the period when they were targeted, which made the large profits they were promised much more interesting.
Last month’s arrests followed and were enabled by evidence and information collected during 2021 coordinated actions in Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Ukraine that targeted the same fraudulent online trading platform for financial services with binary options.
“The approximately 100 employees of the two call centres, located in Sofia, contacted ‘clients’ and advertised pretend financial services in the field of binary options under the guise of financial advisers,” Europol said in an October 2021 press release.
“To undertake the scam, the call centre employees had scripts containing predefined conversations and key messaging to convince clients to release more funds.”
However, as a follow-up investigation discovered, the majority of call center workers were unaware of their employer’s participation in a fraudulent scheme.
Today’s announcement comes after Ukraine’s cyber police and Europol identified and arrested five key members of another international investment fraud ring behind estimated losses of more than €200 million (roughly $221 million) annually.
The fraudsters operated from call centers and offices across multiple European countries, including Ukraine, Germany, Spain, Latvia, Finland, and Albania.
They tricked potential investors into making fictitious investments via a broad network of websites posing as legitimate portals for cryptocurrency, stocks, bonds, futures, and options investments.
These fake investment websites falsely promised to generate substantial profits for investors, persuading victims to invest further and fall into the scammers’ trap.