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Inside the Kiev fraud factory stealing senior citizens’ savings
KIEV/STOCKHOLM. Marie, 73, in Vingåker. Maj-Britt, 67, in Dalarna. Östen, 75, in Lappträsk. They have all had their lives ruined by reckless bitcoin fraudsters.
English speaking telemarketers promising high revenues drove them to invest everything they owned – and more. But everything was fake. Despite the fact that millions of Swedish kronor have disappeared the police haven't even tried to investigate the crimes.
With the help from a source inside the fraud factory, equipped with a hidden camera, Dagens Nyheter can now reveal the operation which has affected thousands of victims in more than 50 countries.
Mandarin Plaza is one of Ukraine’s most exclusive shopping malls. Rows of luxury cars are parked outside. Diamond vendors, expensive clothes boutiques and luxurious stores occupy the first floor.
On the sixth and seventh floor: an international fraud factory with hundreds of employees.
Here, in central Kiev, is home to Milton Group's headquarters. Young people queue up to get into the office entrance at the back of the building. They pass through a security checkpoint – and have to leave their private cell phones outside.
Officially the company works with data programming and financial services. Hundreds of telemarketers sit side by side, making phone calls to all over the world in their hunt for new victims. They offer lucrative investments in cryptocurrencies and stocks.
Everything is professionally structured, with modern telephone and client management systems. They have monthly goals with bonuses for those who suceed. The people who don’t meet their goals are fired.
Everything looks like a modern, well-managed sales company – with the big difference that their products don’t exist.
Everything is fake.
Their real operation is committing fraud on an industrial level – and their victims are from all around the world.
Dagens Nyheter has investigated Milton Group’s operation from the inside, with the help of a whistleblower who works inside the criminal organisation. For months the whistleblower has smuggled out information on a daily basis to give to Dagens Nyheter. The material comes straight from Milton Group’s client databases and reveals the methods and internal systems as well as more than 1,000 victims from more than 50 countries around the world.
Dagens Nyheter equipped the source with a hidden camera which has documented the daily activity in the office.
The information and films have then been shared with Nordic media outlets and the journalist organisation Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP. In collaboration with newspapers around the world the whistleblower’s information has been verified by unanimous testimonies from victims on several continents.
Dagens Nyheter’s unique investigation is now being published in newspapers in 25 countries.
– I don’t leave home anymore. I feel too embarrassed.
We are in 67-year-old Maj-Britt’s house in the Swedish region of Dalarna. We found her in Milton Group’s client management system.
”Sold her home to pay, no money, crying,” was noted in the system about her on October 16, 2019.
In the kitchen of her new rented apartment she tells us about her difficult situation. She doesn’t have money for food, or rent. She cries, out of embarrassment and desperation – but she still wants to tell us about what happened to her.
– If you haven’t been affected, you can't understand.
She still doesn’t know it, but it was no coincidence that she became a target for Milton Group’s fraud, and that they managed to make her give them everything she owns. In a manual for the telemarketers at the office in Kiev there are specific instructions on how to convince Swedish and Scandinavian senior citizens to put their money in fake investments.
”These clients most of the time are old people and they really need someone to talk to. It will be very wise for you to pitch very gently and slow with emotions.”
The telemarketers are encouraged to ask questions about the customers’ life experiences and give the impression that they want to learn from their knowledge. When they have established contact with someone they should get to the actual offer.
”You have to let them know that you want to give them an equally brilliant experience in life about making money the easiest way without them making any effort of going to work every morning, since this is the time they need to relax and enjoy their lives with family.”
Based on the material from inside Milton Group, we have travelled around Sweden to meet the company’s victims: Kolbäck, Motala, Torup and Lappträsk – the stories are almost identical: How the victims read an advert or article, and the telemarketers then convinced them to invest a thousand SEK initially. How they then downloaded software onto their computer so that their ”financial advisor” could help them with the technical bit by remotely controlling their computer.
And how they then lost control over the situation.
Soon their investments were multiplied, often without the victim understanding what was going on. Through the remote control software quick loans with high interest rates – up to 39 percent – were taken out in their names.
On a website they saw their money increasing at an enormous rate. But when they wanted to withdraw the money it disappeared.
A salesperson with a headset on walks around the room, gesturing, hands waving. Suddenly someone runs over and performs what looks like a victory dance. From a rented apartment on the other side of the street we can see through the windows of the sixth and seventh floor. Through the camera’s telephoto lens, hidden behind a curtain, we follow the work at Milton Group’s office.
Our source is somewhere inside the office, on the seventh floor. He has explained how the work is organised:
￭ The sales department is divided into smaller groups of ten telemarketers and a sales director. Their goal is to recruit new clients and convince them to make a first deposit. Small investments, quick revenues – the goal is to get them ”hooked”.
￭ The departments are divided into languages – Russian, English, Italian, Spanish.
￭ Clients with potential are channelled to the next department – ”Retention”. That’s where the ”top sellers” work. Their assignment is to work on the costumers, and make them invest more money.
￭ This is also where the big scams begin. The telemarketers are free to say or do almost anything. As long as they don’t tell the truth – that the investments are fake.
￭ All conversations are recorded and supervised by the sales directors who can send instructions to the telemarketers during conversations.
￭ In the client handling system information about the client’s situation is logged, along with information about how the conversation went.
On the walls of the retention department’s room there are posters with pictures of sport cars.
A whiteboard is full of the telemarketers’ monthly goals.
The Russian market: 40,000. Spanish: 60,000. English: 100,000.
The currency? US Dollars.
”Telemarketers who perform less than 40 percent of their goals are fired.”
The commission for the sales staff: Transfers via credit card, four percent; Western Union and Moneygram, six percent; cryptocurrencies, nine percent.
A young man in a grey sweater sits next to a picture of a yellow Ford Mustang.
He calls himself William Bradley and is responsible for almost all of the company’s scams against Swedes.
– A very nice man.
The retired ambulance driver Kent Lundin, 73, clasps his head. He remembers William Bradley very well. They have spent many hours on the phone during the last six months.
That’s something he shares with almost all the Swedish victims we have met. They all mention the same name, and they all talk about how he, with the help of charm and persistence, made them turn over control of their computers – and then over their finances. In the end he controlled their lives – when the quick loans he took in their names put them in debt for life.
Kent Lundin lost several hundred thousand SEK through the scams.
The man who he knows as William Bradley is 23 years old. According to his social media accounts his real name is Javid Hamze and he is from Iran.
With a hidden camera DN’s whistleblower has managed to record ”William Bradley” in the middle of a sales conversation with a client. It’s New Years Eve 2019 and Bradley gives his well wishes to the man on the phone – and to his family. When Bradley hangs up he brags about how he has been able to get more than 150,000 dollars from the man. And how he has made the man believe that it’s his own fault that the money is gone.
A colleague asks him:
– Have you fucked him twice?
The camera records him answering:
– No, more. Maybe six, seven times.
The man who calls himself William Bradley is mentioned in several Swedish reports to the police – all of them have been dropped. The Swedish police hasn’t even tried to investigate the cases, even though they concern several million SEK in total, money that has been stolen from Swedish senior citizens. All the police reports that DN have examined have been dropped without any investigation. In one of the decisions to close a case it is noted that the crime is ”obviously not possible to investigate”.
The youngest of the ten Swedish victims that DN has identified is 55 years old. The oldest victim is 82. One of the goals for the telemarketers is to make their victims install a program that makes it possible to remotely control their computers. The software – usually AnyDesk or TeamViewer – is normally used by IT-support teams to help their employees with technical queries. This is also the reason that is given in conversations with the victims. But in Milton Group’s hands the software becomes a powerful tool for criminal activity.
Senior citizen Marie Jansson from Vingåker tells us how the telemarketer took out big loans in her name, using the remote control tool. As soon as the money was transfered to her account the fraudsters got ahold of it. She could see the arrow going back and forth across her screen.
– They were so pushy, I felt like I was raped. I was paralyzed and couldn’t stop what was happening, she says.
Now her money is gone – but not the loans adding up to several hundred thousands SEK. She has had to go back to work in order to afford food at the age of 73.
The frauds are committed in several steps. Often they start when a person has shown interest in trying to trade with bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Several people testify that they have clicked on an advert in social media, which has led them to fake articles about Swedish celebrities who supposedly earned large sums via bitcoin investments. The tv-host Filip Hammar, well-known criminologist Leif GW Persson and the best-selling author Camilla Läckberg have all had their names used to trick Swedes.
The people who sign up are soon met by a storm of telemarketers. We have not been able to find a direct connection between the fake advertisements and Milton Group, but several of the Swedish victims assert that the fake adverts are what started everything.
After the victim has been lured into downloading the program that makes it possible remotely control their computer they are asked to log in to their bank and show their accounts. They also send a copy of their ID-card or passport and a new bill as proof of their home address.
The telemarketer then helps the client to trade on one of their trading platforms. With manipulated information the victims are shown fake revenues which are meant to entice them into investing more money.
In reality, the investments don’t exist. The money disappears straight after the transfer.
Maj-Britt from Dalarna had been renovating her house for several years. But after being tricked into taking out a loan for hundreds of thousands of SEK she was forced to sell her home. But the debts are still overwhelming. Every month she is forced to leave bills worth thousands unpaid.
– I can’t afford my rent or food, she says.
That’s when the next step kicks in. The saviour.
A lawyer or financial advisor calls the clients to help them reclaim their investments. Miraculously the money is located, often a larger amount than the client initially invested.
There is only one problem.
Before the transfer can be made and the money can bereturned the firm needs a commission, tax has to be paid and a certificate has to be sent. Everything has to be paid in advance – or the client won’t get the money back.
But this is just another part of the fraud.
At the retention department at Milton Group’s office in Kiev ”telemarketers” and ”lawyers” sit side by side. They are all central parts of Milton Group’s fraud factory.
The goals for how much money they should steal every month are written on a whiteboard.
The people who exceed the goals get a bonus.
At the same time Maj-Britt in Dalarna tells us how much the scam has affected her.