Call centres in Albania have been linked to an international scam by the Milton Group, according to an investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project
The so-called “boiler-room scam” was revealed when a whistleblower handed a cache of documents to Swedish newspaper Dagens Ny-heter and the OCCRP. It provided evidence of how workers within a Milton Group call centre in Kyiv, Ukraine were duping unsuspecting citizens into making small “investments’ ‘, refusing to allow withdrawals and pressuring them into putting more and more money into the scam.
By using “brutal psychological pressure”, some were harassed into taking out big loans and others were tricked by forged letter purporting to be from the UKs financial regulators.
The investigation that involved journalists from across the world and interviews with more than 180 victims was also able to note links between the Milton Group scam and call centres in Albania, as well as North Macedonia.
But these type of scams are reportedly common and it has long been suspected that Albanian call centres were being used by nefarious companies to carry out morally dubious and even illegal work.
Exit spoke to one source who used to work in a call centre, that was operated by a large Cyprus-based Forex broker. While the centre is no longer operational, he detailed how the Cypriot company had decided to use Albanian staff from an office in Tirana to cut costs. He explained how they were trained to target elderly clients and to exert pressure on those who were bereaved or living alone.
“These kinds of people were seen as ‘easy targets’ and we were given tips on how to get them to hand over more money. They told us to use fake names, pretend to be their friends and even contact them outside of working hours,” he said.
“We were told to use WhatsApp to speak to them after the first contact because the phone lines in the office were recorded-that way we could break the rules to get a sale and there would be no evidence.”
The source explained how guilty he used to feel but that his team leader who was seconded from the head office in Cyprus, plied them with alcohol and even cocaine to get results
“The pressure was too much. He [the team leader] used to tell me ‘look if they are stupid enough to fall for it, they deserve to lose everything’,” he explained.
Staff used to compete over not just the number of clients that they got to hand over large sums of money, but also how many they convinced not to withdraw their funds even if they wanted to. Exit’s source explained how their team leader had boasted that in four years he had never allowed a ‘client’ to withdraw their funds. In fact, Exit found reviews in online forums naming the team leader, noting the pressure and unethical way that he dealt with them. Victims also wrote that they had been unable to withdraw any of their “investments”.
Exit was also given evidence of the Albanian call centres staff stealing clients personal details to set up fake Forex trading accounts to scam the company and then funnelling the money into fake Skrill accounts that they owned. This evidence included copies of their ID documents and instructions on how to set up the accounts.
Exit was able to confirm that the company in question has now withdrawn from Albania and is being monitored by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (who they are registered with) due to concerns over their business practices. An email trail was provided, detailing evidence provided by a whistleblower to the FCA, detailing instances of unethical and illegal behaviour.