The head of a criminal network responsible for defrauding hundreds of elderly people has been arrested, Europol has announced.

After a joint operation in Germany, Poland, and the UK, Europol says the suspect was arrested in London from where he ran a network of fraudsters targeting mainly German and Polish citizens. Europol estimates that the overall damage done by the network amounts to around €5 million, and that €1.4 million of losses were prevented thanks to the successful takedown.

The fraudsters pretended to be police officers or impersonated other official authorities, calling targets to tell them one of their relatives had caused something like a car accident which resulted in injuries or the death of someone else. An accomplice, pretending to be the relative, would cry or scream into the phone frantically, begging the target to lend help.

The end goal was to get the target to hand over an amount of money to avoid the fake relative’s detention. The criminals would then send a person to collect the money at the victim’s doorstep. For this part the criminal network recruited unwitting accomplices for this task through online job platforms, in order to minimize exposure and avoid the risk of arrest of the criminals running the operation.

Targeting the elderly is nothing new, sadly. In many forms of phone scams, the perpetrators pose as close relatives of the targeted victims and pretend to have encountered financial, legal or health difficulties in order to fraudulently obtain money. Europol says:

“Crime targeting elderly citizens through scam calls, where individuals impersonate representatives of police and judicial authorities, poses a grave danger and has a profound impact on the victims. Apart from the suffered and often irrecoverable financial damage, it can cause emotional distress and a loss of trust in legitimate authorities.”

Don’t fall for them

It is important to stay vigilant and protect yourself from scam calls by following these guidelines:

  • Don’t share personal or financial information with unknown or unexpected callers
  • If someone is saying they are a relative of yours, check via another way—by calling them back on their own phone or other means to verify it is really them.
  • Keep in mind that 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 call like this, hang up immediately and tell the police.

We’d also like to point out our 9 basic security tips for seniors to help you stay safe.

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