‘Europol scam’: The hoax calls swindling Germans out of millions

In a new type of scam that's been doing the rounds in Germany since February, people have been contacted by fraudsters posing as national or as international police agencies.

Man speaks on phone in dark room
A man speaks on the phone in a darkened room. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lukas Schulze

Last week, Germany’s telecommunications regulator, the Federal Network Agency, said it had received 7,600 complaints about a so-called ‘Europol ploy’ in the month of June alone. 

The scam starts with a phone call which, when answered, plays an automated message saying that the police are waiting on the line. Users are then asked to press 1 to continue and those who follow the request are connected to a fraudster claiming to be from Interpol, Europol or the German Federal Criminal Office (BKA).

The scammers impersonate officials and tell their victims that they are involved in serious crimes or are victims of a crime, such as identity theft, and urge them to provide personal information and make payments.

The scam first appeared on the authorities’ radar in February this year and, since then, there have been 22,000 reported cases, though the number of unreported calls is expected to be several times higher.

The Guardian reported that, in the state of Bavaria alone, police have estimated the sum of damages amounting from this scam to amount to more than €2.5 million.

Fraudsters using ‘Call-ID spoofing’

In order to appear more trustworthy to their victims, the perpetrators of this scam use a special technical trick so that the number that appears on the screen of those called actually belongs to Europol, Interpol or a German police station.

This method is called ‘Call-ID Spoofing’ and helps scammers to convince their victims that they are genuine and trustworthy.

READ ALSO: Five common rental scams in Germany and how to avoid them

In terms of the real identity of the fraudsters, the Federal Network Agency has determined that “the calls have reached Germany from foreign networks, for example, India, Romania or Spain.” However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this is where the criminals are based, and merely indicates that the calls are routed across several network borders.

How to avoid getting scammed

The BKA advises people to simply hang up and not to allow themselves to be drawn into a conversation or be put under pressure from these kinds of callers.

If you think that a call might really be from a national or international police authority, you can always hang up, find the official number online and call it to check if the contact was genuine.

But, as a general rule, investigating authorities would never make demands for money over the phone or by e-mail. 

Member comments

  1. I got the call. First spam call I’ve received in years since moving to Germany. In the USA, you get these calls 20 times a day. The moment it was a recording, said Europol, I hung up. If they are looking for you, they’ll come find you. Not call.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

A 50-year-old German man was jailed for life Tuesday for shooting dead a petrol station cashier because he was angry about being told to wear a mask while buying beer.

German man jailed for killing petrol station worker in mask row

The September 2021 murder in the western town of Idar-Oberstein shocked Germany, which saw a vocal anti-mask and anti-vaccine movement emerge in response to the government’s coronavirus restrictions.

The row started when 20-year-old student worker Alex W. asked the man to put on a mask inside the shop, as required in all German stores at the time.

After a brief argument, the man left.

The perpetrator – identified only as Mario N. – returned about an hour and a half later, this time wearing a mask. But as he bought his six-pack of beer to the till, he took off his mask and another argument ensued.

He then pulled out a revolver and shot the cashier in the head point-blank.

On Tuesday, the district court in Bad-Kreuznach convicted Mario N. of murder and unlawful possession of a firearm, and handed him a life sentence.

READ ALSO: Shock in Germany after cashier shot dead in Covid mask row

Under German law, people given a life sentence can usually seek parole after 15 years. His defence team had sought a sentence of manslaughter, rather than murder.

At the start of the trial, prosecutor Nicole Frohn told how Mario N. had felt increasingly angry about the measures imposed to curb the pandemic, seeing them as an infringement on his rights.

“Since he knew he couldn’t reach the politicians responsible, he decided to kill him (Alex W.),” she said.

Mario N. turned himself in to police the day after the shooting.

German has relaxed most of its coronavirus rules, although masks are still required in some settings, such as public transport.