What just happened? A coordinated operation by prosecutors in five different European countries dismantled a large online fraud business, putting nearly half a dozen suspects behind bars and uncovering a handful of illegal call centers. The culprits were found in possession of luxury products, Bitcoins and a lot of cash.

Eurojust and Europol worked together to take down a fake online investment platform, a fraudulent operation which stole an estimated €89 million (roughly $97 million) from 33,000 different victims. German authorities requested the action, Europol said, which took place over two days in March.

A team of 33 German police officers and investigators were involved in the operation in Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, and Israel, and were backed by Europol specialists. A total of 15 locations were searched in Bulgaria, Romania and Israel, uncovering five illegal call centers.

Authorities took action against the same scam back in 2021. This time around, German police seized a range of "high-value assets," Europol said, including luxury watches, electronic equipment, cash, Bitcoins, bank cards, documents, data-carrying devices.

The fraud scheme was conceived to attract potential investors through "professional-looking" banners on websites and advertising on social media, using call centers in various European countries. The scammers were first asking for a small starting investment of 200-250 euros, Europol said, promising higher profits with "fake graphics and software."

The second level of the fraud involved calls from so-called personal financial advisors, who were seemingly asking for bigger investments to get higher profits. Needless to say, said profits never materialized and the investments were hijacked and redirected to the fraudsters' bank accounts. The scheme was active between 2019 and 2021, and it is believed that suspects already identified in the 2021 operation or their associates set up new call centers.

The scammers exploited low interest rates available at the time, encouraging investments in high-risk financial products like binary options. Compared to "vanilla" options, binary options are a so-called exotic type of financial investments which is often used (and abused) in fraud schemes like the one uncovered by European authorities.