Warnings issued after Europol phone scam cons Germans out of millions

Warnings issued after Europol phone scam cons Germans out of millions

The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has issued a warning after thousands of people in Germany were targeted by similar scam calls. The tricksters have been impersonating Europol officers, successfully convincing thousands of people to hand over their private data and conning them out of millions of euros. 

Wave of “Europol scam calls” hits Germany

Police say people in Germany have been subjected to a deluge of scam calls over the last couple of months, all following exactly the same pattern, on both mobile phones and landlines. The scam call starts with an automated message in English that states that the police are waiting on the line, and asks the person to press to connect.

If the person obliges, they are connected to a scammer pretending to be an officer for Interpol, Europol or the BKA. They usually tell the person that they have been the victim of a crime, usually identity theft, and ask them to provide personal information and transfer money out of their bank account, or buy vouchers, gift cards or cryptocurrency to protect their money.

According to the BKA, the scammers have managed to exploit a design flaw in the telecoms infrastructure to do something called “caller ID spoofing”, to make phones display real police or Europol numbers, rather than the number of the person actually calling. This means that even if victims give the number a quick Google search to make sure, they can be convinced that it is a legitimate law enforcement officer they are speaking to. 

Thousands of calls reported in Germany, France and Austria

The scams were first reported around February this year, and in the meantime, the Federal Network Agency has received more than 7.000 complaints of similar calls. The calls seem to mainly be targeting Germany, but a handful have also been reported in France and Austria.

Not all federal states have released information about how much money has been lost to the scam, but officials in Bavaria reported that the sum of damages surpassed 2,5 million euros in the southern state alone.

The BKA has told people to be on their guard for calls like these, and has issued a reminder that a Europol officer would never call someone directly or ask them for money. “We are literally not in a legal position to do so,” Jan Op Gen Oorth, a Europol spokesperson, told The Guardian.

The BKA is urging people to put the phone down and not get drawn into a conversation, allowing the scammer to pile on the pressure. They emphasised that you should never give out personal or financial details over the phone, and that if you do receive a call, you should report it to your local police station. 

Police struggling to track down tricksters

Police investigations to track down the perpetrators are underway, but progress has been hampered by the fact that the tricksters are laying down a technologically sophisticated network of rerouted phone numbers passing through India, Romania, Spain and other countries. Some police forces have been able to track down victims’ money to bank accounts in Thailand, but so far a breakthrough is proving elusive.

In the meantime, authorities are looking to ease the situation by implementing changes that would make it easier for people to recognise spoofed calls. The Telecommunications Modernisation Act, which came into effect last December with a one-year transition period, would oblige phone operators to mark calls trying to disguise themselves as German numbers with a “no caller ID” tag.



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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