Multinational Police Force Arrests 108 Suspected ScammersEuropol Says Officials Raided 3 Call Centers in Latvia, Lithuania During Probe
Europol on Tuesday announced the arrest of 108 suspects who were detained over an international call center scam in Latvia and Lithuania.
The statement did not specify the charges against them.
On Thursday and Friday, "hundreds" of officers from the Latvian State Police and the Lithuanian Police, aided by Europol and EU law enforcement agency Eurojust, raided three call centers belonging to the same organized crime group. The members of the undisclosed gang are accused of defrauding victims across the world.
The suspects arrested are believed to have turned an illegal profit of over 3 million euros ($3,340,155) per month with this scam.
"Under their orders, an army of up to 200 fake ‘traders,' speaking English, Russian, Polish and Hindi, would call unsuspecting victims to persuade them to part with their savings, promising lucrative investment opportunities. However, the investments in bitcoin, commodities and foreign currencies were all fake," Europol says.
The coordinated raid against suspected scammers resulted in:
- The detainment of 80 people in Latvia and 28 in Lithuania;
- The seizure of cash, bank accounts and luxury vehicles;
- The seizure of 95,000 euros ($105,671.35) in cryptocurrencies.
Europol also shared a video of the raid:
The arrests were coordinated by Europol's European Cybercrime Center and its European Financial and Economic Crime Center with assistance from Eurojust.
They were conducted by bringing together national investigators from Latvia and Lithuania to establish a joint strategy and to organize the intensive exchange of evidence needed to prepare for the final phase of the investigation.
The agency says its experts from both the European Financial and Economic Crime Center and the European Cybercrime Center were also deployed to Latvia and Lithuania to assist the national authorities.
The joint operation was coordinated by Europol, which says that Eurojust played an important role in organizing a rapid coordination meeting, setting up a joint team to investigate the case within one week, and executing a European Investigation Order.
The joint investigation team was initiated by the French authorities and set up in September 2019 between Norway, France, the United Kingdom and Ukraine with financial support from Eurojust - and the assistance of both Eurojust and Europol.
Authorities Gave Warnings
In September 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued a warning that fresh criminal schemes were continuing to target digital assets. Security experts had then said that with social engineering attempts on the rise, individuals and organizations must remain vigilant against crypto-related scams or other "get rich quick" schemes (see: SEC Warns of Fraudulent Cryptocurrency Schemes).
In its bulletin, the SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy and the Division of Enforcement's Retail Strategy Task Force said, "Fraudsters continue to exploit the rising popularity of digital assets to lure investors into scams, often leading to devastating losses." The regulator warns users to beware of potential phishing or impersonation scams that appear to offer "something new" or "cutting edge."
The SEC added, "If you are considering a digital asset-related investment, take the time to understand how the investment works and to evaluate its risks. Look for warning signs that it may be a scam."
The SEC said that suspicious digital asset operations often guarantee high investment returns with little or no risk, are usually run by unlicensed or unregistered sellers, promise significant surge in account values and advertise using fake testimonials given by paid reviewers.
'A Tricky Foe'
Call center fraud is not new, and Andrew Barratt, vice president at cybersecurity advisory services firm Coalfire, says the potential earnings this group has been able to generate show how active the threat is. It often targets end users directly, he says, or targets particular customer demographics of major multinational brands.
"They’re a tricky foe to defend against, often requiring major brands to mount customer-side security awareness campaigns explaining just how they interact with their customers, particularly in the financial services industry," according to Barratt.
But John Bambenek, principal threat hunter at Netenrich, a San Jose, California-based digital IT and security operations company, says that this technique doesn’t scale, and it’s not uncommon for defenders to call these numbers to tie up the attackers' time.