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Europol Arrests 15 in Massive Cryptocurrency Scam Crackdown: $1 Million Seized

Europol apprehended a multinational criminal network running a bitcoin pyramid scheme in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Serbia, and Germany.

Europol, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, said on November 13 that it had successfully clamped down on a criminal network engaging in internet scams via call centres. The network was spread throughout Europe.

The operation was carried out on January 11, 2023, according to Europol, following an inquiry that began in June 2022 at the request of German authorities. Europol conducted operations in 22 separate sites across Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Serbia in collaboration with the national authorities of the other countries. As a result, 15 people were arrested, 14 of whom were in Serbia and one in Germany.

Along with the arrests, investigators recovered three physical wallets carrying around $1 million in cryptocurrency and approximately €50,000 in cash. They also took three vehicles, electronic equipment, backups containing critical data, and other documents. The inquiry is still underway since the criminal network is thought to include more call centres than were raided.

According to Europol, the criminal network executed a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, luring victims with “seemingly outstanding” bitcoin investments that promised significant and guaranteed gains. With only four call centres, the network was able to capture hundreds of millions of euros. Many victims, however, choose not to report to law authorities, making it difficult to calculate the costs.

To acquire the trust of their victims, the scammers would initially request small quantities of money, often in the three-digit range. Once a more close friendship was created, the scammers persuaded the victims to make larger transfers each time until the fraudsters had enough to stop communicating. Europol reports that the criminal network stole at least $2 million from unsuspecting German citizens.

According to Europol, the agency is collaborating with a number of international authorities to “keep ahead of individuals who utilise crypto-assets to perpetrate crimes and launder money.”

Europol, on the other hand, highlighted that, while cryptocurrencies have become appealing to criminals because to their anonymity and decentralised aspects, their use in illegal operations represents a minuscule proportion when compared to illicit activity involving fiat money:

The use of cryptocurrencies for unlawful purposes looks to be a minor part of the overall cryptocurrency economy, and it appears to be smaller than the quantity of illicit funds involved in traditional finance.

Governments throughout the world are becoming more concerned about how cryptocurrencies are being used in illicit activities. The United States government, for example, has taken action against certain cryptocurrency platforms that have been discovered to assist criminal behaviour. The most notable example is the cryptocurrency mixer “Tornado Cash,” which the US government sanctioned owing to its use by criminals to conceal their transactions, but other centralised exchanges have also had to deal with authorities for similar reasons.

 

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