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Bitcoin ‘Scam’ Triggers Police Search Across Europe

February 15, 2018, 5:50 PM UTC

Austrian authorities are asking Interpol to help them track down suspects in an alleged Bitcoin scam that blew up last year and may have hit hundreds of investors in the country and abroad.

The prosecutors’ office in Vienna is consolidating “hundreds of complaints” about a scheme known as “Optioment” that have been filed at police stations across the country, and which add to a warning by financial watchdog FMA, spokeswoman Christina Ratz said by telephone. Die Presse earlier reported that the total number of victims could exceed 10,000 and that as many as 12,000 Bitcoins ($115 million) may have been lost.

Federal police identified two people in Austria who are accused of fraud in the complaints, and are seeking to identify several others, including some abroad, Ratz said. Austrian police asked the Interpol agency to investigate additional suspects in Denmark, Latvia and Germany. She declined to identify the suspects. No arrests have been made.

Optioment ran a website that’s now offline, and it held events attended by as many as 700 retail investors in Austria, Die Presse reported today. The scheme promised returns of as much as 4 percent a week for deposited Bitcoins, and it rewarded investors who attracted new users to the system, the newspaper said, citing internal documents, videos from investor events, and interviews with members of the scheme.

Costa Rica

Optioment told investors it was a “private Costa Rica-based Bitcoin fund,” according to a copy of its website hosted by the Internet Archive. It promised outsized returns through arbitrage trading.

Die Presse said the “multi-level marketing” may have broadened the investor population into Poland, Romania and the former Yugoslavia. Prosecutors also have hints suggesting German investors may have been affected, Ratz said.

Optioment initially offered redemptions until stopping around November, Die Presse said. The FMA watchdog reported the scheme to the prosecutors at the end of January, because it suspected it to be fraudulent or a pyramid scheme, spokesman Klaus Grubelnik said.