Fifteen locations were searched in Bulgaria, Romania and Israel, including five illegal call centres, in a new coordinated action against a fraudulent online investment platform, European police cooperation agency Europol said in a statement.
The fraudulent online investment platform has so far cost at least 33 000 victims an estimated 89 million euro, Europol said.
At the request of the German authorities, two action days took place in March, during which five suspects were arrested. The operation is a follow-up to actions against the same online scam in 2021.
These coordinated actions in 2021 led to a wealth of new information and evidence, which enabled the operations of March 2023, Europol said.
Previously, the financial damage caused by the scam was estimated to be at least 15 million euro.
“However, based on the new information, the criminal network behind the fraudulent scheme has caused much more financial damage and created many more victims.”
During the action days, 33 German police officers and investigators participated in the actions on the ground in Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia and Israel, supported by Europol specialists.
During the actions, a range of high-value assets were seized, including luxury watches, electronic equipment, cash, bitcoins, bank cards and numerous documents and data carriers.
The criminal network behind the fraud attracted investors with professional-looking banners on websites and publicity via social media, using call centres in various European countries, Europol said.
The scammers encouraged their victims to make small initial investments of between 200 and 250 euro, showing high profits via fake graphics and software.
The victims were then contacted by so-called personal financial advisors, who promised even higher profits on bigger investments. These higher investments were then subsequently lost, and the illegal profits were paid into the perpetrators’ bank accounts.
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.
“Due to low interest rates during this period, investors were attracted to investing in high-risk financial instruments, such as binary options,” Europol said.
“These are often susceptible to fraud and are therefore used in online scams. Such options are, in most cases, fixed amounts of money, serving as a guarantee for risky financial transactions or theoretical asset pricing,” the agency said.