Fraudulent online investment platform: five arrests of high-value targets
Eurojust and Europol have supported a new coordinated action against a fraudulent online investment platform, which has so far cost at least 33 000 victims an estimated EUR 89 million. At the request of the German authorities, two action days took place in March, during which five suspects were arrested. Furthermore, 15 locations were searched in Bulgaria, Romania and Israel, including five illegal call centres. 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. Previously, the financial damage caused by the scam was estimated to be at least EUR 15 million. However, based on the new information, the criminal network behind the fraudulent scheme has caused much more financial damage and created many more victims.
Eurojust supported the actions by setting up a joint investigation team to look into the online fraud scheme in January 2023, and by organising two dedicated coordination meetings to prepare for the new actions. Eurojust also assisted with the execution of European Arrest Warrants, European Investigation Orders and requests for Mutual Legal Assistance.
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.
To support the investigation, Europol set up a dedicated Operational Task Force, through which it facilitated information exchanges and provided analytical support. During the most recent action days, Europol deployed experts to Israel and – remotely – to the coordination centre at Eurojust.
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. The scammers encouraged their victims to make small initial investments of between EUR 200 and 250, 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. 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 operation was carried out on the ground by:
- Germany: Public Prosecutor’s Office Göttingen; Central Criminal Investigation Department Braunschweig
- Bulgaria: Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office, General Directorate National Police to the Ministry of Interior
- Romania: Directorate Investigating Organised Crime and Terrorism; General Inspectorate Romanian Police
- Georgia: Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia
- Israel: National Cybercrime Unit in LAHAV 433