With the support of Europol, law enforcement agencies from Germany, Poland and the United Kingdom have tracked down and arrested the head of a criminal network responsible for defrauding hundreds of senior citizens across Europe. The suspect was arrested near London, from where he ran a network of fraudsters mainly targeting German and Polish nationals. While carrying out the arrest warrant issued by Polish authorities, officers confiscated crucial evidence such as mobile phones from the suspect’s residence. Meanwhile, German police carried out searches at five homes and seized more than 160,000 euros in cash, gold bars and coins, as well as jewellery, telephones and other electronic devices.
The organised criminal network’s speciality was calling elderly people in Germany and Poland, posing as police officers or representatives of other official authorities by means of impersonation. Victims were informed that one of their family members had been involved in a traffic accident or similar incident and had caused serious injury or death to others. The scam caller would hand the phone to an accomplice in the network, who, crying or screaming desperately into the phone, would implore the victim for help. This procedure was intended to shock the victim, allowing the perpetrator to commit the fraudulent act and ask for the delivery of money to avoid the arrest of the false relative.
The criminals instructed the victim on how to deliver the requested money and then sent a person to collect it in cash at the victim’s home. Through online job platforms, the criminal network recruited unsuspecting accomplices for this task to reduce exposure and avoid the risk of arrest.
During the course of the investigation, more than 70 people involved in the scam were arrested, such as while collecting the requested money from the victims’ homes. The overall damage amounts to around 5 million euros and it is estimated that up to a further 1.4 million euros in losses could have been avoided thanks to this successfully completed operation.
Crimes carried out on elderly people through scam calls in which offenders impersonate police or judicial authorities pose a serious danger and have a profound impact on victims. Aside from the economic damage suffered, which is often irrecoverable, they can cause emotional distress and loss of confidence in legitimate authorities.
Apart from impersonating officials, including law enforcement and, in some cases, healthcare personnel, other impersonation scams include the so-called grandchild or nephew trick. In such cases, the attackers pose as close relatives of the targeted victims, most of whom are elderly, and pretend that they are in economic, legal or health difficulties, in order to fraudulently obtain money.
The criminal networks active in these impersonation scams represent a major threat in the European Union and are highly adaptable to all types of contexts. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some criminals adapted their frauds by posing as sick family members in financial need.
It is important to be alert to and protect yourself from scam calls and not share personal or financial information with strangers. Law enforcement and other officials will never ask for money or payment via phone or in person by showing up at your front door.