International Police Operation Dismantles Phone Scam Network

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A multi-national policing operation has led to the arrest of dozens of suspects including the alleged boss of an organized crime operation that targeted elderly victims with scam phone calls, according to Europol.

The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) arrested the suspected head of the network near London, while Polish and German officers searched multiple locations on the continent, seizing mobile phones and other electronic devices, gold bars and coins, jewelry and €160,000 ($174,000) in cash.

Over the course of the investigation, around 70 individuals have been arrested.

Read more on Europol action: European Police Bust Multimillion-Dollar Investment Fraud Gang

The scam worked in two main parts: first, fraudsters would cold call elderly victims pretending to be police officers or officials and informing the victim that their relative had been responsible for an accident resulting in the death of others.

The phone would then be handed to a second individual who would scream into the device asking desperately for help. That tactic was intended to shock the recipient into following the fraudster’s orders to hand over money to avoid the detention of the fake relative.

The second stage involved sending a person to collect the money direct from the victim’s house. This person was usually an unwitting money mule recruited via an online job platform, according to Europol.

In total, Europol estimated that hundreds of elderly victims were impacted by this gang, losing as much as €5m ($5.4m) in the process. The policing organization claimed that the group’s takedown may have prevented as much as €1.4m ($1.5m) more in losses.

Such scams can con victims out of “irrecoverable” sums of money, while causing severe emotional distress and a loss of trust in legitimate authorities, Europol claimed.

Last year the UK’s telecoms regulator announced plans to crack down on phone calls that spoof the number of banks, police and other institutions in order to win the trust of victims.

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