European police have arrested over 100 people after busting a prolific organized crime operation centered around cryptocurrency investment fraud.
Supported by Europol, the Latvian State Police (Valsts Policija) and the Lithuanian Police (Lietuvos Policija) pounced on three call centers last week. Investigators said they were being run by the same organized crime gang which has defrauded victims across the globe.
As many as 200 fake traders took to the phones to cold-call victims with lucrative-sounding investment opportunities, many of them in Bitcoin-related scams and foreign currency and commodity trading.
These call center operatives reportedly spoke English, Hindi, Russian and Polish, hinting at the nationality of most victims.
The group is estimated to have made as much as €3m ($3.3m) per month via such scams, according to Europol.
The police raids resulted in 80 arrests in Latvia and a further 28 in the neighboring Baltic state of Lithuania. Cash, bank accounts, luxury vehicles and €95,000 in cryptocurrency were seized, Europol claimed.
The transnational policing organization said that its experts from both its European Financial and Economic Crime Centre and European Cybercrime Centre were deployed to Latvia and Lithuania to help the authorities there during the action days on March 24-25.
For many years, call center scams have been a staple money-maker for cyber-criminals and fraudsters. Last year, Proofpoint warned of a surge in malicious activity, with some victims conned out of tens of thousands of dollars.
These so-called tech support scams can start with an unsolicited phone call or an email which urges the user to call a number. Malware is then downloaded remotely to a user’s device by a service agent, under the pretense of helping to rectify a problem with the machine that doesn’t exist.
The latest European bust differs somewhat because the victims were tricked into investing in non-existent schemes to make money.
In fact, losses from investment fraud have soared over the past year. According to the FBI, they’re now the second biggest money-maker for cyber-criminals, costing victims nearly $1.5bn in 2021.