The National Police has successfully taken down an international criminal network that specialized in a scam known as the “son in distress.” This operation has had a significant impact on this type of crime, resulting in the resolution of 95 complaints totaling approximately 410,000 euros in fraud. The operation culminated in the arrest of 65 individuals, including two leaders of the organization, who operated from various regions of Spain, specifically in Malaga, Catalonia, and Madrid. Among the evidence seized, a laptop containing over 500 spreadsheet files with personal data of potential victims was discovered.
The investigation began in February 2022 when authorities noticed a surge in complaints related to the “son in distress” scam in Seville. This criminal scheme involves cybercriminals posing as the victims’ children on messaging apps, claiming to be in urgent situations and requesting money through bank transfers. After months of thorough investigations and tracking complaints, the authorities were able to dismantle the key centers of this criminal network in the province of Malaga. A group of individuals involved in the operation was uncovered during the operation.
The Fraud Security Forces and Bodies identified several individuals who played significant roles within the plot, as well as numerous accomplices spread throughout the country, particularly in Malaga and Girona. These individuals carried out various functions within the organization, including handling money, recruiting computer mules, and executing the scams. The first blow against the organization occurred in August 2023 in Torremolinos (Málaga), with the arrest of a Dutch citizen identified as the leader of the gang. In November of the same year, another leader of the network, also of Dutch nationality, was arrested along with several of his closest collaborators in Fuengirola (Málaga).
The authorities highlighted the lavish lifestyle of these criminals, staying in luxury hotels and driving high-end rental vehicles, which underscored the sophistication and breadth of this international criminal network. The police have revealed the elaborate modus operandi of a criminal organization dedicated to massive scams through SMS. This group began by acquiring databases of potential victims, storing this information in spreadsheet files. More than 500 of these files were found on the hard drive of a confiscated laptop, each containing approximately 150,000 records.
Once the text messages were sent on a large scale, those who fell into the trap were contacted through the numbers provided, being directed by designated individuals to induce the victims to follow instructions and fall into the deception. The next step consisted of creating barriers to avoid being discovered, through the use of bank accounts in the name of third parties obtained through word of mouth or through contacts on social networks, with the promise of receiving a commission.
The police operation has resulted in the dismantling of the criminal organization, the arrest of the leaders, and the identification of 221 individuals as collaborators in the crime, both nationally and internationally. The investigation remains open, awaiting new complaints related to these criminal activities.
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