Spanish police on Friday reported that it busted a gang of online dating conmen on the island of Mallorca, who allegedly defrauded numerous victims throughout Europe of well over 1 million euros ($974,000).
A total of 16 people were arrested, 15 of whom were in Mallorca, the Spanish police said.
The police added that the suspected group leader, a 27-year-old Nigerian man, was also arrested.
Media quoted a police spokesperson calling the crackdown “one of the largest operations in the fight against cybercrime in the European Union.”
At least 20 victims have been identified, most of them single women.
Authorities said the conmen operated similarly to the well-known Israeli fraudster Simon Leviev, whose victims tell their stories in the Netflix documentary “The Tinder Swindler.”
The conmen used fake online dating profiles to create virtual relationships with women and gain their trust. The women were then asked for money transfers under the pretext of feigned emergency situations.
The investigation began with a case in the eastern Spanish town of Alicante.
Police said that among other things, the conmen used a handsome actor who made regular video calls with the victim.
The fictitious U.S. soldier repeatedly asked for and received financial help for plane tickets, tax payments, protection and more. The gang took a total of 835,000 euros from this woman alone.
Authorities have so far identified women in Germany, Italy, Spain, Finland, Luxembourg, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Croatia, Slovakia and other countries who were defrauded through these fake relationships.
The scammed money was transferred to accounts abroad in Indonesia and Malaysia, for example, and some were invested in Bitcoin.
In addition to the alleged Nigerian ringleader, the arrested individuals, between 19 and 31 years old, came from Spain, Romania and some Latin American countries, including Mexico and Cuba.
They are charged with fraud, forgery and membership of a criminal organisation. (dpa/NAN)