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German police hail takedown of Europe’s “largest” call center scam network in operation Pandora

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In a nutshell: Law enforcement agencies across Europe and the Middle East just took down the “largest call center fraud scheme in Europe,” as a German minister described it. In a massive coordinated strike dubbed Operation Pandora, police in Germany, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Lebanon raided a dozen call centers tied to thousands of daily fraudulent calls.

The sting, supported by Europol, nabbed 21 individuals believed to be running an enormous criminal network that swindled untold numbers of victims through a variety of scams – from impersonating police to peddling bogus investments and romance fraud. The scammers used some wild scripts, working every angle to try and shock or manipulate people into forking over cash.

As detailed in a Europol press release, this whole saga kicked off last December when a bank teller in the German city of Freiburg got suspicious about a customer trying to withdraw over €100,000. It turned out that the person had fallen for a ‘fake police officer’ scam in which the callers attempt to deceive individuals into believing they are under investigation.

The teller tipped off the real cops, who not only stopped the victim from losing their life savings but also monitored the scammer’s phone lines. They found the criminals were linked to over 28,000 scam calls in just 48 hours.

As investigators dug in, they realized this network was behind all kinds of telephone trickery – posing as relatives, creditors, etc. The scammers had operations separated out geographically too, resembling an assembly line of fraud. The debt collection cons were concentrated in Bosnia, online bank stuff came from Kosovo, investing scams spewed out of Albania, and the prepaid card ripoffs dialed in from Lebanon.

Incredibly, German cops were able to wiretap huge numbers of these scam calls in real time. They set up a call center staffed 24/7 by over 100 officers to monitor the crooks’ conversations. Every time it looked like someone was about to get duped, law enforcement would jump in and alert the potential victim.

In just four months, they logged 1.3 million calls – over 7,500 blatant crimes they had to formally investigate. All told, the police saved people from losing over €10 million.

With intel from monitoring the calls plus digital forensics, the shady operations were traced back to those 12 call centers. Europol offered serious backup, hosting planning meetings, lending analysts, and coordinating the entire cross-border crackdown.

When raid day came last month, it was an all-out mobility swarming dozens of homes and businesses. About 60 German officers swept in with hundreds more from the other countries, seizing over €1 million in cash and assets, mountains of evidence, and locking up those 21 ringleaders.

Europol’s data crunchers are digging through all the seized equipment now, expecting to uncover even more call centers and scammers in this massive fraud web.

Masthead credit: Mohamed_hassan

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