During a meeting with high-level officials in Ukraine, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde has reportedly urged the country’s government to look into a $70 million cryptocurrency scheme that allegedly committed fraud at an “industrial level.”
According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, the scheme was revealed after a whistleblower provided Swedish news outlet Dagens Nyheter (DN) a cache of documents that exposed the so-called “Milton Group,” which runs a call center in Kyiv from which it cold calls thousands of victims in countries throughout the world.
The scheme is believed to have defrauded up to a thousand people with promises of get-rich-quick investment schemes in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and in other markets. The Milton Group allegedly defrauded people out of over $70 million, often older citizens, with one woman being forced to sell her house to cover her debt.
Ann Linde, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, was quoted as saying, “It is really upsetting to see how they bluff Swedish retirees who have to leave their homes and live on a minimum subsistence level. And then they sit there, laughing.”
In various cases, according to the OCCRP, victims were lured into Milton Group’s scheme via adverts they saw on Facebook, which used false celebrity endorsements to promote get-rich-quick schemes.
Facebook has, for its part in the scheme, seen some consequences. Qatari billionaire Wissam Al Mana, the ex-husband of celebrity superstar Janet Jackson, has sued the social media giant over fraudulent advertisements using his image to promote these scams in the Middle East.
Anders Ygeman, the Swedish Minister for Digitization and Energy, was quoted as saying, “Facebook makes 1.5 billion SEK ($160 million) every year in Sweden from advertising. Therefore they have to be able to guarantee that they don’t have fraudulent adverts which force retirees to leave their homes.”
Milton Group’s scheme allegedly also included sending victims a piece of software that was supposed to help them with financial advice, but instead gave the group control over their devices. Using information from them, the group is said to have taken out loans using the victims’ names and IDs.
On their accounts, victims were shown figures that suggested high returns on their investments, but when they went to withdraw the funds these had disappeared.