Europol takes down call centers that scammed Germans out of €2 million

International police arrested scammers selling fake cryptocurrency in Europe, Australia, and Canada, Europol announced Thursday.

During a cross-border investigation launched in June 2022, police arrested 14 suspects in Serbia and one in Germany. More than 260 other suspects, including people in Bulgaria and Cyprus, have been questioned and some are awaiting prosecution.

The criminal network consisted of a number of groups operating from at least four call centers in Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Serbia. The police searched these locations and seized three digital wallets with about $1 million in cryptocurrencies, about €50,000 ($54,000) in cash, three cars, computers, and documents.

The victims, mainly from Germany, lost over €2 million in an online investment scam. Police said the number of unreported cases was likely much higher, and that the total amount of losses could reach “hundreds of millions of euros,” Europol said.

Suspected scammers used social media ads to find victims and lure them into investing money in fake cryptocurrencies — a so-called “pig butchering” cryptocurrency scam.

Victims initially invested a small amount of money, but as cryptocurrency prices were artificially inflated, offering supposedly lucrative returns, users were persuaded to invest more.

In pig butchering schemes, scammers build up trust with their victims and then pressure them to deposit more of their crypto assets into fake digital wallets. “The fraud is named for the way scammers feed their victims with promises of romance and riches before cutting them off and taking all their money,” according to an FBI report.

Pig butchering schemes have grown in frequency in recent years. Scammers often find their victims through dating apps, social media sites, and even random texts.

In 2021, the FBI received more than 4,300 complaints related to pig butchering scams, resulting in more than $429 million in losses. 

The average victim of cryptocurrency scams loses almost $122,000, according to the FBI. About two-thirds of victims are women ages 25 to 40.

In November, the U.S. Justice Department seized seven pig butchering domains responsible for $10 million in victim losses. In July, scammers used fraudulent cryptocurrency investment apps to steal an estimated $42.7 million from at least 244 victims.

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Daryna Antoniuk

Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.