Vishing network taken down by Police

Vishing (or ‘voice phishing’) is a rising threat and the elderly are often targeted with so-called ‘shock calls’.  Police have successfully taken down an organised criminal network that specialised in the ‘spoof’ calling of elderly citizens across Germany and Poland, where the callers pretended to be police officers or representatives of other official authorities.  The criminals had successfully defrauded  hundreds of elderly victims.

  • The victims were informed that one of their relatives had been responsible for a car accident or similar event resulting in the injury or death of other persons. The spoof caller then handed over the phone to an accomplice, who would cry or scream into the phone, faking distress and begging the victim for help.  This approach aimed to shock the elderly victim, allowing the caller to proceed with the fraudulent procedure and ask for the handover of money to avoid the fake relative’s detention.
  • The criminals then instructed the victim that a person would come to their address to collect the money.
  • In order to minimise exposure and avoid the risk of arrest, the criminal network recruited unwitting accomplices for this task, via online job platforms.

Law enforcement from Germany, Poland, and the United Kingdom, supported by Europol, tracked down the head of the criminal network, who was arrested close to London in the UK.

While executing the Polish arrest warrant, UK officers seized crucial evidence such as mobile phones.  In Germany police conducted searches in five locations and seized over €160,000 in cash, gold bars and gold coins, as well as jewellery, phones, and other electronic devices.

During the investigation, over 70 persons taking part in this scam were arrested, some while they were collecting money at the homes of victim’s.  Overall losses are believed to be around €5 million and is estimated that up to €1.4 million of losses were prevented thanks to this successful takedown.

Damage caused by Vishing

Vishing is defined as the criminal practice of using social engineering over the telephone system (spoof calling) to gain access to private personal and financial information from the public for the purpose of financial reward.

Spoof calling doesn’t just case financial loss to victims, but such calls can cause emotional distress and a loss of trust in legitimate authorities.  In addition to the impersonating of officials (including law enforcement and in and healthcare personnel), other impersonation scams include the so-called ‘grandchild’ or ‘nephew’ trick.  In such cases, the scammers pose as close relatives of the targeted (typically elderly) victims, and pretend to have encountered financial, legal, or health difficulties in order to fraudulently obtain money.

Criminal networks active in impersonation fraud  pose a significant threat within Europe and are highly adaptable to wider developments. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some perpetrators adapted their schemes to pretend to be sick relatives in need of money.

Don’t become a victim of ‘Vishing’

  • Stay vigilant and protect yourself from spoof calls by never sharing personal or financial information with unknown callers.
  • Law enforcement and other officials will never ask for money or payments over the telephone or in person by showing up at your door.
  • If you receive a spoof call like this, hang up immediately and call the police.

The EAST Expert Group on Payment and Transaction Fraud (EPTF) focuses on the security of payments and transactions and covers the prevention of vishing and spoof calling within its brief. The 15th EAST EPTF meeting took place on 19 April 2023 and the 16th Meeting will be held on 5 July 2023.

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