Guardia Civil busts phone spoofing scam: Six arrested in multi-million euro scheme

by Lorraine Williamson
phone scam

BARCELONA – The Guardia Civil has successfully dismantled a criminal organisation specialising in phone spoofing scams, leading to the arrest of six individuals in Barcelona.

The group, aged between 16 and 22, targeted at least 60 victims in the Balearic Islands, defrauding them of over one and a half million euros.

The operation, named “Fretus,” was initiated following a surge in reports of fraudulent activities in the Balearic Islands earlier this year. The Guardia Civil’s Technological Crimes Unit took swift action, investigating scams executed through “smishing” and the more sophisticated “spoof” phone technique.

Phone smishing scam

The criminals employed a two-pronged approach, initially using the well-known “smishing” method by sending victims SMS messages posing as their banks. These messages warned of unauthorised access to their accounts, prompting victims to verify the operations immediately through a provided link. Furthermore, the link directed them to a fake bank webpage controlled by the cybercriminals, who aimed to steal login credentials.

If victims did not fall for the initial SMS scam, the organisation employed a new method known as “caller ID spoofing.” In this advanced technique, they impersonated the real phone number of the victims’ bank branches, making calls to the targeted individuals. Claiming there were fraudulent transactions on their accounts, the scammers requested the security codes received via SMS to falsely cancel these operations, ultimately completing the deception and executing the fraud.

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The criminals, persistent in their attempts, continued to impersonate victims by making voice calls to the banks when unable to execute the scam through the initial SMS. This variant of the scam, known as “vishing,” involved fraudulent voice calls to financial institutions to initiate money transfers.

Over sixty victims and six arrests

The impact of the scam was substantial, with approximately 60 victims identified in the Balearic Islands alone, and reports suggest more victims across various provinces. The total amount defrauded by the group is estimated to exceed one and a half million euros.

The Guardia Civil’s investigation not only led to the arrest of the six perpetrators, including two minors, but also prevented fraudulent transactions totaling €200,000. This recovered money has been returned to the defrauded individuals. Additionally, during the raids, police seized electronic devices and other items used by the criminals, along with a high-end vehicle valued at €50,000, purchased with cryptocurrency by the organisation’s leader.

The arrested individuals, all aged between 16 and 22, with four of them being adults, have been remanded in provisional custody. The ongoing investigation aims to identify and apprehend additional suspects involved in this elaborate criminal scheme.

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