Bulgaria involved in takedown of fake financial services crime group

Law enforcement and judicial authorities from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, the Netherlands and Ukraine, supported by Europol and Eurojust, teamed up against an organised crime group involved in binary fraud, European police agency Europol said on October 11.

The group was behind an online trading platform for financial services with binary options. Europol set up an Operational Task Force to support the cross-border investigation.

Operating between May 2019 and September 2021, the criminal network lured German investors into making transactions worth a total of at least 15 million euro, Europol said.

The suspects advertised the financial services online and via social media, while using over 250 domain names.

The criminal network connected to a company, based in Ukraine, set up a call centre in Bulgaria.

Europol said that the about 100 employees of the two call centres, located in Sofia, contacted “clients” and advertised pretend financial services in the field of binary options under the guise of financial advisers.

To undertake the scam, the call centre 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.

Initial profits shown in the user interface encouraged the clients to invest large sums of money.

However, clients did not receive payment of their winnings or credit balance once they requested it.

The investigation has so far led to 246 criminal proceedings across 15 German federal states, the police agency said.

Action against the group involved eight house searches – five in Bulgaria, two in Ukraine and one in Cyprus – while 17 individuals were questioned in Bulgaria.

One “high value target” was arrested in Cyprus, Europol said.

Seizures included phones, electronic equipment, bank accounts and data back-ups 

During the action days, Europol deployed six experts to Bulgaria, Cyprus and Ukraine to cross-check operational information in real-time against Europol’s databases so as to provide leads to investigators in the field. The experts also provided technical expertise to enable the extraction of information from mobile devices and IT infrastructure, the police agency said.

Eurojust hosted a coordination centre to facilitate the information exchange and support cooperation between involved authorities during the action day, Europol said.

(Photo: Victor Semionov)

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