The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia has announced that they have arrested seven people as part of a joint investigation with German authorities into scam call centres.
The authorities said the scheme had fraudulently misappropriated €9.5 million, $720,000, and £220,000 in illegal income.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the venture was formed in 2015 by citizens of Georgia and Israel. The alleged fraud ring reportedly established six companies in Georgia. Employing foreign language experts as ‘operators’ they targeted people living all over Europe.
Call centre employees, using fake phone numbers and fictitious names, offered the people they called ‘securities, stocks, commodity assets, currencies, and cryptocurrencies’.
‘The operators assured the consumers that with their help, they would be able to make a solid profit’, the Prosecutor’s Office statement reads. ‘After obtaining the consent of the user, the funds allocated for e-commerce were placed in bank accounts under the control of the criminal group.’
‘Lying to people the whole time’
Natia (not her real name), a former employee of several Tbilisi call centres, told OC Media that this was far from a unique case.
‘If you go to jobs.ge you see hundreds of companies like that’, she said, adding that they all advertised jobs titled ‘sales operator’ or ‘call centre operator’ without giving any further details about the nature of the job — that is only revealed later, when the prospective employee finally starts working.
At one company she worked at, Natia translated content about cryptocurrencies into German for the company’s website.
‘They were explaining it [to employees] as if it was more like gambling, and saying these people will just gamble anywhere, so let's create an opportunity for them to gamble here, because there are worse companies’, she recalled.
As to what actually went on, Natia said she didn’t know.
‘Maybe they were really giving people the opportunity to win’, she said. ‘Maybe they were lying to people the whole time.’
But at another company she worked for, Natia recalled, she was certain something illegal was going on. She cited one example, where they called people in Germany and convinced them to reinvest their savings into ‘a very new cryptocurrency’ to ‘become rich’.
‘It looked like they would make somebody invest and then they would not care, they would just lose this money’, she said.
‘When you do it it doesn’t mean you are a bad person, there were people who had children, who really needed the money, who were doing it’, she said. ‘I know many people who had mental breakdowns, or had really bad psychological problems afterwards.’
The job had a very high turnover rate, ‘because at some point you realise that you are manipulating people, they were teaching you how to manipulate these people.’ Though, she added, ‘there were also some people who enjoyed doing it’.
But for the majority of workers, who felt their conscience sting because of the work, threats from superiors ensured silence.
‘If you say anything about this company, you can have some problems, and we can find you’, she recalled colleagues being told. ‘They looked like very dangerous people.’