Law enforcement and judicial authorities from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany and Serbia, supported by Europol and Eurojust, have teamed up against organised crime groups involved in online investment fraud. This criminal network, comprising a number of different criminal actors operating through call centres, lured victims into investing large amounts of money into fake cryptocurrency schemes. Europol set up an Operational Task Force to support the cross-border investigation.
- 15 arrests, 14 in Serbia and one in Germany;
- 261 individuals questioned, some of whom are awaiting prosecution (42 in Bulgaria, 2 in Cyprus, 3 in Germany and 214 in Serbia);
- 22 locations searched (5 in Bulgaria, 2 in Cyprus, 15 in Serbia) including: 4 call centres and 11 residences in Serbia; 2 residences in Cyprus; 2 companies and 3 residences in Bulgaria.
- Seizures include 3 hardware wallets with about USD 1 million in cryptocurrencies on it and about EUR 50 000 in cash, 3 vehicles, electronic equipment and data back-ups, documents.
At least EUR 2 million in losses
The suspects used advertisements on social networks to lure victims to websites covertly operated by the criminals, which offered seemingly exceptional investment opportunities in cryptocurrencies. The victims, mainly from Germany, would first invest low, three-digit sums. Fake price hikes leading to supposedly lucrative profits for investors then persuaded them to make transfers of higher amounts. Currently, it is estimated that the financial damage to German victims is over two million euro, while other countries such as Switzerland, Australia and Canada also have victims. The investigation suggests that the number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher. This would mean that the illegal gains generated by the criminal groups, with at least four call centres in eastern Europe, may be in the hundreds of millions of euro.
Europol has supported this investigation since June 2022 following an initial request from Germany. During the course of the investigation, Europol facilitated the information exchange, provided analytical support and coordinated operational activities. During the action day, Europol deployed two experts to Bulgaria and Serbia to cross-check operational information in real time against Europol’s databases in order to provide leads to investigators in the field. The experts also provided technical expertise to enable the extraction of information from mobile devices and IT infrastructure.
On the day of the action, Eurojust hosted a coordination centre to facilitate the information exchange and support cooperation between involved authorities during the operational activities.
Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, Europol supports the 27 EU Member States in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime, and other serious and organised crime forms. Europol also works with many non-EU partner states and international organisations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.