Home News 100+ Arrested in Spain for Million-Euro ‘Distressed Child’ Scam

100+ Arrested in Spain for Million-Euro ‘Distressed Child’ Scam

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Mobile messaging app scam
Mobile messaging app scam results in over a 100 arrests across Spain

More than 100 individuals were apprehended across Spain for orchestrating a million -euro sophisticated ‘distressed child’ scam

The Guardia Civil has arrested 102 individuals in the provinces of Alicante, Barcelona, Girona, Granada, Madrid, Málaga, and Valencia, who are suspected of defrauding over 850,000 euros from 238 victims. Posing as a distressed child in need of money, the group managed to convince victims to make transfers ranging from 800 to 55,000 euros.

During their investigation, the Guardia Civil identified over 500 bank accounts from various institutions used by the fraudsters to transfer money obtained through scams. Additionally, more than 100 phone lines were analyzed, which had been registered using false identities to commit fraud via mobile messaging.

The first reports were received in late 2022 in the province of Alicante. Victims recounted how the perpetrators had managed to defraud them of significant sums of money by pretending to be a family member in a difficult situation requiring immediate financial assistance.

The “distressed child” scam

The distressed child scam used in Spain is a type of fraud that exploits the trust of victims, manipulating them into providing money. First, the perpetrators study the profiles of potential victims, who typically have an emancipated, studying abroad, or traveling child. They then contact their target via a popular mobile messaging application, pretending to be their son or daughter. To justify the use of a different phone number, they claim to have an issue with their phone.

Conversations start with a personal greeting, creating an instant emotional connection before conveying urgency through messages of desperation, prompting a protective response from the parents.

Once they have captured the victim’s attention and established trust, they explain that they are facing an unexpected problem that requires immediate resolution and urgent payment, but they cannot access their bank account. Therefore, they need the victim to make an immediate transfer to the account number provided by the fake children. The persuasiveness of the fraudsters is such that they often succeed in convincing the victim to make continuous transfers of large sums of money.

Nearly a million euros defrauded nationwide

In this police operation, named ‘Hiwaso’, the Guardia Civil has uncovered a network that allegedly defrauded at least 850,000 euros from 238 people in the province of Alicante alone.

The transfers made by the victims ranged from a single transfer of 800 euros to multiple transfers totaling up to 55,000 euros defrauded from a single victim.

The perpetrators provided clear and specific instructions to facilitate fund transfers. They used the immediate transfer method, without recourse, allowing them to immediately access the money. In total, the authorities have identified over 500 bank accounts from various institutions used to receive the money. They also analyzed over 100 phone lines registered using false identities. The Guardia Civil has confirmed that the criminal group laundered the stolen money by making payments at various types of businesses and withdrawing cash from ATMs.

The perpetrators operated across the entire Spanish territory. Once the suspects were located, the operation was carried out in multiple phases due to its scale.

In the first phase, conducted in February 2024, 12 individuals were arrested in Granada and 29 in Málaga. Between February and March, two individuals were arrested in Alicante, three in Valencia, and 13 in Madrid. Finally, in the third phase at the end of April, 35 individuals were arrested in Barcelona and eight in Girona.

The organization consisted of 74 men and 28 women aged between 20 and 60 years old. They are being charged with fraud, money laundering, and participation in a criminal organization. The proceedings have been submitted to the Investigating Court of Torrevieja, which is handling the case.

The investigation was carried out by the Guardia Civil’s Alicante Team, with the collaboration of the Cybercrime Team and the Urban Crime Team.

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