Authorities in Italy, Albania Bust $16M Suspected Crypto Investment Scam

Law enforcement authorities in Italy and Albania busted a suspected cryptocurrency investment scam estimated to have netted 15 million euros ($16 million).

Assets worth 3 million euros were seized during the action by a joint investigation team, Eurojust, the European Union's cross-border agency for fighting organized crime, announced on Dec. 19. More than 160 electronic devices were also seized, including computers, servers, digital video recorders and a cellphone.

An organized crime group carried out the operation out of a call center in Tirana, Albania, Eurojust said. Victims were asked to create an account and transfer an initial sum, which showed an immediate financial gain. They were then contacted by the perpetrators posing as brokers "that proposed advantageous investments in cryptocurrencies with zero risk," though it's not clear that any crypto assets were purchased.

Victims were subsequently encouraged to make far larger investments, in some cases their entire economic capital, according to Eurojust. Once the larger deposits were made, the account details were changed and the victims locked out.

Crypto investment scams have proved popular with criminals as they target victims seeking to make sizeable short-term financial gains, despite the market's decline this year. That's separate from the use of cryptocurrency, with its perceived lack of traceability, to hide the proceeds of crime. In the U.K., crypto tactical advisors have begun to be stationed in police departments specifically to investigate and seize digital assets linked to crime.

"We cannot provide further details on this case as the investigation is still ongoing," Eurojust told CoinDesk in response for a request for more information.

Read more: UK Lawmakers Vote to Widen Authorities’ Powers in Seizing Crypto-Related Property

Camomile Shumba contributed to this report.