Spain arrests, WhatsApp scheme
Screenshot from a video by Spanish police of arrests of suspects in a WhatsApp scheme. Image: Guardia Civil / X

More than 100 arrested in Spain in $900,000 WhatsApp scheme

Spanish police have arrested more than 100 people who stole €850,000 (more than $900,000) through WhatsApp by pretending to be their victims’ family members in urgent need of help.

According to a statement by the Guardia Civil, one of Spain's police forces, the suspects — men and women aged between 20 and 60 — were arrested from February to April in seven Spanish provinces. All of them were charged with fraud, money laundering, and being part of a criminal organization.

To trick their victims, the scammers contacted them on WhatsApp posing as a family member, typically a son, in some distressing situation requiring urgent financial help.

Money transfers from 238 victims ranged from €800 to €55,000.

The scammers were so convincing that in most cases, they managed to get continuous payments from their victims, according to the police.

Law enforcement also identified more than 500 bank accounts that the scammers used to transfer the money. The fraudsters also registered nearly 100 phone numbers using false identities.

This wasn’t the first time the hackers used such a scheme to trick Spanish citizens. Earlier in January, local police arrested 59 members of a criminal gang that stole over €460,000 ($490,000) by convincing families that their children, often students abroad, were in trouble and urgently needed the money.

According to the police, the hackers used social media to find potential targets and collect as much information about them as possible to make the conversation seem credible.

The so-called “family-in-need” schemes are common among hackers worldwide. In January, the U.S. charged 16 individuals who defrauded elderly Americans out of millions of dollars by pretending to be their relatives in urgent need of money.

One American family was scammed out of hundreds of dollars earlier in March when a group of hackers convinced them that their daughter had been abducted by Mexican authorities.

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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.