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International police operation targets suspected boiler room masterminds

An unprecedented international police operation across the UK and Spain, other parts of Europe and the United States has targeted suspected masterminds of boiler room operations which are believed to be responsible for millions of pounds of investment fraud.

A groundbreaking partnership between UK and Spanish law enforcement agencies has led to a total of 110 arrests after 35 warrants were executed at private addresses and in buildings where boiler room operations were allegedly being conducted.​​​​​​​​​

Suspect's own photo wearing what are believed to be high value watches on feet
​High value goods including an Aston Martin, Ferrari, Mercedes, BMW, Mustang, designer clothes, watches and cash in various denominations with a value in excess of £500,000 were also seized. (Pictured right and below)

The City of London Police, as the national policing lead for economic crime, and Policía Nacional co-ordinated strikes in Spain, England, the United States and Serbia, marking a significant step forward in a two-year investigation into men suspected of being at the peak of an extensive network of organised crime.

The operation also represented a milestone for the new National Crime Agency, which has assisted in the planning and execution of today’s activity, along with the Financial Conduct Authority, Serious Fraud Office, Crown Prosecution Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Secret Service.

Ford Mustang confiscated from property in Marbella, Spain
​In 2012 the City of London Police and the Policía Nacional began forensically examining reports of investors worldwide being sold bogus shares in carbon credits, gold, renewable energy, forestry, eco projects, wine and land. Many investors had suffered devastating financial losses and emotional distress.

Since then a number of arrests have been made across the UK, with several cases being brought to court. The investigation then started to target the people believed to be at the very top of an organised crime gang, whose influence detectives believe can be found in the day-to-day running of boiler rooms located across Europe.

City of London Police Commander, and National Economic Crime Co-ordinator, Steve Head, said: “This is a landmark both from an investigative perspective and in terms of our close working partnership with other law enforcement agencies, most notably the Policía Nacional.

“It is our most important investigation ever, targeting people we believe are at the top of an organised crime network that has been facilitating boiler rooms across Europe and which is suspected of being responsible for millions of pounds of investment fraud.

“The scale of this operation has been years in the making and also significantly supported by the National Crime Agency, Financial Conduct Authority and Serious Fraud Office.

“The arrests made across four countries highlight how law enforcement can work globally in the pursuit of suspected criminals who seek shelter in foreign lands so they can target innocent people with investment scams that wreak financial and emotional destruction.”

In recent years, City of London Police investigations have led to numerous prosecutions where organised crime gangs have been found to be running boiler rooms, mainly located in Spain, with teams of young men cold-calling investors offering them worthless, overpriced or even non-existent shares. They promise high returns but those who invest, often the elderly and vulnerable, usually end up losing their money.

Aston Martin being confiscated from suspect's home in Barcelona
​Joan Mayer, 78, from Hampshire lost a six figure sum. She had wanted to invest to help create a secure financial future for her daughter. She said: “Discovering the fraud was shattering. I was left feeling isolated and it is difficult to explain how humiliated I feel. My lifelong trust in people has been severely damaged.”

Another victim, a 72 year old man from the Midlands, who did not want to be identified, said: “When my wife and I first found out that we had been scammed out of our entire life savings, the shock and despair we both felt was unbelievable. I felt totally devastated and could not believe that money I had saved my whole life for had been taken from me. In those early weeks we hardly slept or ate. It is still very raw to us both and we both have bad days when it is all we can think about.”

Of the 110 arrests, there were 84 in Spain, 20 in the UK, two in the United States and four in Serbia with the majority of people arrested on suspicion of money laundering and fraud offences.

The operation also led to the closure of what are believed to be 14 boiler rooms in Spain, two in the UK and one in Serbia.

City of London Police execute warrant at suspected London boiler room
​In the last year of the investigation, prior to the operational activity this week, City of London Police restrained £1.5 million in UK bank accounts believed to have been gained through boiler room activity.

Stephanie Jeavons, Deputy Director of the NCA's Economic Crime Command, said: “The scale of this operation demonstrates the response that major fraudsters targeting the UK public should expect. Working with partners like the Policía Nacional and City of London Police, the NCA is directing its international reach, intelligence capability and relentless focus on cutting economic crime to putting these criminals out of business.

“Awareness of this type of crime among the UK public, as well as ex-pat communities, can also help to fight it. Boiler room fraudsters often attract jobseekers with offers of lucrative sales jobs based abroad, which turn out to be cold-calling people and aggressively selling them worthless or non-existent commodities. This can decimate the financial security of innocent people.

"If you are recruited to a boiler room you can expect to find yourself subject to law enforcement action, and if an unsolicited investment opportunity like this seems surprisingly attractive, please ask yourself why."

Following on from this week’s operation, independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers will be launching a campaign using their Most Wanted gallery in an attempt to locate other known perpetrators of boiler room fraud in hot spot areas. Members of the public will be asked if they recognise anyone on the list, or if they have any further information on boiler room fraud to pass information anonymously to Crimestoppers.

Anyone who believes they have fallen victim to an investment scam should contact Action Fraud .

Anyone who would like to give information about suspected investment fraud scams or the people behind these crimes can also contact independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit the Crimestoppers website​.

Advice for investors on how to secure legitimate shares is available on the Financial Conduct Authority’s website .​​​​

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