Fraud involving fake police officers has risen sharply in Austria in recent years. As the Christmas holidays, in particular, are used for such acts, Interior Minister Gerhard Karner warned at a press conference in Vienna on Tuesday that if a police officer stands in front of your door and demands money or valuables, they are “100 percent fake”, and you should contact the police immediately.
In 2022 and 2023, the authorities registered 1,572 attempts across Austria by fake police officers to take money or valuables from their victims. The perpetrators succeeded in 290 cases. The average loss per crime amounts to around 25,000 euros, with one woman having jewelry worth two million euros extorted from her. “It was handed over in a suitcase,” said Karl Popper from the Lower Austrian State Criminal Police Office. For 2022, the ministry stated a total loss of 15 million euros; in 2023, it will provisionally be 19.4 million.
Fake police officers put victims under enormous psychological pressure
The perpetrators put the victims under enormous psychological pressure. They either pretend to be a judge, public prosecutor, or police officer on the phone and claim that a close relative abroad has caused a fatal traffic accident and that a large sum of money needs to be raised quickly for bail or that money and valuables are no longer safe in the bank. These would then be collected promptly by a police officer.
According to Manuel Scherscher, head of the white-collar crime department at the Federal Criminal Police Office, the perpetrators of organised crime are very clever. Telephone scammers, who have usually lived in Austria for a long time and speak German without an accent, call numbers from abroad, such as Turkey or Poland, from the telephone directory if the first name suggests an older person. As soon as the victim accepts the scam, an accomplice in Austria is contacted, who then pretends to be a fake police officer and collects cash or valuables.
Serious material and psychological damage
A special task force has now been set up at the Federal Criminal Police Office to combat and reduce this form of fraud. Accordingly, 99 people were arrested in 2022 and 2023. However, cooperation is also international: during an operation against con artists in Poland, Austria, Switzerland, and Luxembourg three weeks ago, around 27 suspects were caught red-handed and arrested.
At the press conference, the authorities once again issued an urgent warning about the perpetrators. When there is even the slightest suspicion, the police should be called right away. For the victims, the consequences are not only material; some have “probably been psychologically destroyed” by the crimes, as Karner said.
Fraud: tips from the police
- Neither the police nor banks proceed in the manner described.
- End the phone call!
- The police will not take or keep any cash or valuables for you.
- Be careful if a caller asks you for valuables, cash, or account balances. In this case, end the call immediately!
- Inform your relatives about this type of scam!
- Talk to your closest relatives about this approach!
- Also, specify alternative contact persons for your relatives in case you cannot be reached immediately.
- As soon as you realize that the caller is demanding money from you, break off the call!
- Make a note of the caller’s number!
- Contact the nearest police station and file a complaint!
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