With the support of the European Union’s cross-border agency for fighting organized crime, Eurojust, and the European law enforcement agency, Europol, authorities in Cyprus, Serbia, and Bulgaria have busted a crypto fraud operation. At least tens of millions of euros were stolen from victims from Canada, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Australia, Eurojust said.
The criminal network lured potential investors online and contacted victims by phone to convince them to invest mall amounts, called ‘Pig Butchering’ cryptocurrency scams. After the initial profit, the victims invested more, then lost. The number of unreported fraud cases is higher, investigation suggests.
According to a report published on Friday, four call centers and 18 locations (2 companies and 3 residences in Bulgaria, 11 residences in Serbia, and 2 residences in Cyprus) were searched during the investigation, with 14 people caught in Serbia and one in Germany. In addition, 250 criminal sites were identified in Germany, Serbia, Cyprus, and Bulgaria.
A total of 261 people have been interviewed, some of whom are awaiting prosecution (2 in Cyprus, 214 in Serbia, 42 in Bulgaria, and 3 in Germany), according to Europol.
Over 150 computers, various electronic equipment and data back-ups, three cars, two luxury apartments and $1 million in cryptocurrencies and 50 000 euros in cash were seized.”
Technical infrastructure in Bulgaria was used to operate call centers in Serbia. These were searched and closed by the Serbian authorities during the operation. These fraud centers in Europe have been under investigation since June 2022.
Europol uncovered another call center investment fraud operation in March 2022 following the arrest of 108 suspects in Lithuania and Latvia.
Millions Lost In Crypto Investment Scams
The fraudsters used social media ads to lure victims to fake websites that offered seemingly exceptional cryptocurrency investment opportunities. Victims, especially those from Germany, used low, three-digit amounts for investment. Fake inflation led to perceived profits for investors and then convinced them to make big moves.
Currently, it is estimated that the financial damage to German victims is over two million euros.
Investments in crypto-related scams are popular with criminal organizations because they can target victims looking for short-term capital gains.
In June 2022, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that between January 2021 and March 2022, more than 46,000 Americans lost over $1 billion to crypto scams.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) cautioned about ‘Pig Butchering’ investment crypto schemes in October. The term pig butcher refers to a social scam in which “pigs” or victims are “butchered” by people who pressure them to engage in fake opportunities.
According to Forbes, a 52-year-old man from the Bay Area, California, lost more than $1 million in a pig butchering scam. He revealed his “heartbreaking” WhatsApp conversation with the female scammer, which lasted about 3 months.
In December, authorities in Albania and Italy cracked down on a crypto scam that was supposed to rob 15 million euros.
The deputy director of the Global Anti-Scam Organization, Jan Santiago, told Frobs:
These scams are carried out “on a large scale, on an industrial scale — like they’re doing fraud in a factory.