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Europol takes down cybercriminals who made millions from online investment scams

An October 6 operation carried out by a joint group of multiple law enforcement and judicial agencies from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, the Netherlands, and Ukraine led to the takedown of an organized cybercrime network involved in binary fraud.

According to the findings of the cross-border investigation, the criminals used 250 fake domains and social media accounts, as well as two call centers, to trick German investors into buying fake binary options - a type of options contract where the chance of a payout depends on the outcome of a bet.

With close to 100 call center operators in Bulgaria posing as financial advisors, the group managed to steal over €15 million over two years.

“To undertake the scam, the call center employees had scripts containing predefined conversations and key messaging to convince clients to release more funds. However, a subsequent investigation suggests that most of the employees were not aware that the company they were working for was involved in a fraud scheme,” Europol said in a statement.

According to Europol, the cybercriminals encouraged their victims to invest large sums of money into the scam by showing initial profits in the user interface of the fake trading platform. Unsurprisingly, the investors couldn’t withdraw any ‘winnings’ from the scam website.

So far, the cross-border investigation has led to 246 criminal proceedings in 15 German federal states. In addition, the law enforcement authorities conducted 6 house searches, 17 interrogations, seizures of electronic equipment, bank accounts, and data backups, as well as the arrest of a “high-value target” in Cyprus.

During the operation, Europol deployed six experts to Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Ukraine to “cross-check operational information in real-time against Europol’s databases.” The experts also provided technical expertise to local law enforcement in order to “enable the extraction of information from mobile devices and IT infrastructure.

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