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Police arrest Costa del Sol-based ringleaders of hacker network as hundreds fall victim to 'child in distress' mobile phone scam

Of the 65 people arrested in Spain, some 15 were detained in Malaga province, including the two main suspects who were captured in Fuengirola and Torremolinos

Irene Quirante

Malaga

Friday, 9 February 2024, 10:42

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Police have smashed a hacker group, based on the Costa del Sol, which allegedly made 410,000 euros from fooling parents into believing their children were in distress.

The crooks would send a WhatsApp message along the lines of: "Hi mum, my mobile phone is broken, this is my new number. I have to pay for something and I don't have my bank card handy, can you make a transfer of 2,900 euros and I'll pay you back later".

National Police arrested 65 people with 15 based on the Costa del Sol, including two of the alleged ringleaders. They defrauded about 410,000, with hundreds of victims complaining to police, according to investigators. Of the hundreds of complaints, investigators have solved 95 cases.

Dutch ringleaders

The police operation started in February in 2022 when many people in Seville reported a similar incident to officers. It led police to Malaga province where one of the cells of the hacking ring was based.

Police made the first arrest in August last year - a Dutch man considered to be a ringleader was arrested in Torremolinos. Officers seized his laptop on which they found more than 500 spreadsheet files which listed the personal details of people previously scammed including their sex, age, country of residence, bank details and place of residence. Documents with nearly 150,000 records were also found.

Another alleged ringleader, also Dutch, was then arrested in November in Fuengirola. Members of the gang travelled from the Netherlands to the Costa del Sol to obtain the profits from the lower echelons of the criminal network, whose responsibility was to recruit mules. The crooks did not try to conceal their money and were regulars in luxury hotels and rented high-end vehicles.

Police identified 221 people as co-operators in the crime, both nationally and internationally. The operation is still ongoing.

How to avoid falling victim to this type of scam:

- Try to contact the person by other means other than WhatsApp, and if it is not possible, ask a relative or friend.

- Be suspicious of the language or expressions of the person writing to you.

- If you have been the victim of a scam, go to a National Police station or phone 091.

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