Friday, September 29

Criminal ring ’caused suicides’ and extorted £3m from victims with bogus emails with child pornography charges

Criminal ring ’caused seven people to commit suicide’ and extorted £3m from victims with bogus emails saying they had to pay a fine of up to £170,000 or face child pornography charges

  • The phishing scam involved fake emails from police, judges or institutions
  • Police said they arrested 18 people in France and one in Belgium.

Police in France and Belgium said today they had cracked down on a criminal network using bogus subpoenas accusing people of viewing child pornography to extort at least £3m.

The phishing scam included fake emails from the police, judges or institutions like Europol threatening victims with prosecution unless they paid a “fine”.

Sums extracted from the victims ranged from less than £4,285 to as much as £1,715, Colonel Thomas Andreu, head of one of the French police special units, told AFP.

Police said one of the victims, who had been stung twice by the robbers, committed suicide, and six others may have also killed themselves.

Police added that they arrested 18 people in France and one in Belgium in an operation on Monday, and all but three of the suspects were ordered to appear in court on fraud charges.

Police said they arrested 18 people in France and one in Belgium in an operation on Monday, with all but three of the suspects ordered to appear in court on fraud charges (File Image)

Police said they arrested 18 people in France and one in Belgium in an operation on Monday, with all but three of the suspects ordered to appear in court on fraud charges (File Image)

“We thought that the fraud was being directed by a central structure,” Andreu said. “However, it turned out to be several small teams that were not linked.”

The scam began in early 2021, prompting the cybercrime section of the Paris prosecutor’s office to open an investigation.

By June 2022, some 400 complaints related to the scam had been filed with the authorities.

Commissioner Christophe Durand of the French anti-cybercrime unit OCLCTIC said the “victims had suffered real anguish”.

Some of the money extorted from the men, who had an average age of 60, was spent in France, but most of it was sent to the Ivory Coast and other African countries.

The man who was beaten twice was first forced to pay £5,123 before the criminals demanded another £6,411.

“Feeling powerless and trapped, he took his own life,” police said.

The suspects are between 20 and 50 years old.

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