Austrian police warn public about new ‘fake cops’ scam

Members of the public in Austria have been targets of scammers pretending to be police officers. Here's what you need to know.

A police car in the city of Vienna, Austria

Austrian police have warned the public about a scam that has apparently returned to the country: the “fake police officers” trick.

According to the authorities, the suspects contact their victims by phone, saying they are from the police and then try different techniques to get money from the people. In the most recent version of the con, the suspects pretend to be officials from international police body Interpol.

In one case reported to the police, a man was contacted by phone and told that over the course of an international police investigation, his name was associated with numerous bank accounts. The criminals told him he risked losing his savings unless he transferred his money to a secure Bitcoin wallet.

The 26-year-old man followed instructions and transferred money to the account.

He lost over €10,000, according to the police who did not reveal the full amount.

Another case involved a 37-year-old man who was informed he was talking to an Interpol official. The person explained, in English, that documents with the victim’s identity were found and used to open several fake bank accounts. The victim was asked to confirm which accounts really belonged to him and was instructed to carry out several transactions using cryptocurrency.

READ ALSO: Austrian police warn residents of fake DHL text message scam

The victim also lost over €10,000 although police did not reveal the full amount.

How to avoid falling victim

Austrian police have reiterated to members of the public that they never require cash transactions to be carried out by phone. The authorities also recommend stopping suspicious phone calls immediately and then call police on the number 133.

Also, authorities remind the population not to disclose any details about financial circumstances or sensitive data over the phone.

It is also worth noting that cryptocurrency payment requests since the cash is not traceable, are a big red flag. If you are asked to send money via a bitcoin or other crypto wallet, under any circumstances, that should raise alarm bells. So be extra careful if this happens.

Other common scams

Recently, Austrian police warned about other scams, one in particular concerning the DHL postage company. SMS messages are sent to people, intended to look like a parcel notification from delivery service DHL.

The message typically reads that a “pending package” is available and it is the “last chance to pick it up”, before inviting the recipient to click on a link.

However, the link then installs malware on the recipient’s phone by inviting them to install an app.

Authorities remind people not to click on links. Instead, access the official website and check the information, or call the company to confirm. 

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EXPLAINED: What happened at the Linz Halloween riots?

On Halloween night, dozens of people, most minors, rioted in the Upper Austrian capital. Two days after the event, Austria is still trying to understand what happened and what to do now.

EXPLAINED: What happened at the Linz Halloween riots?

On the evening of Halloween, dozens of people rioted in Linz. Images on social media appear to show that most of them look young, and the data released by the police confirmed that. 

Among the 129 suspects identified, most (73) are younger than 18, while 26 are considered to be “young adults”, so younger than 21.

What the authorities have not been able to pinpoint, though, is what led to the rioting, which ended with damaged property, injured police officers, and almost 130 people taken into custody.

What exactly happened?

On Halloween evening, October 31st, around 200 took downtown Linz streets on a rampage, damaging storefront windows and attacking unrelated groups of people with stones and even firecrackers. 

READ ALSO: Have your say: Where are the best and worst places to live in Vienna?

As a result, some 170 police officers were called out to the scene to try to drive the rioters away, Austrian media reported. The five-hour operation resulted in nine arrests and two police officers were injured. On Tuesday evening, riots broke out again, but on a much smaller scale and the people left once police arrived.

One thing that draws attention to the episode – other than the unexpected violence – is that many of the people involved were not Austrian citizens. In a country where immigrations is always a contentious issue, this issue was bound to make the headlines.

According to the police, one in three rioters were Austrian citizens. Among the 129 identified suspects, 35 are persons entitled to asylum and five are asylum seekers. In terms of nationality, it is a heterogeneous group, according to broadcaster ORF

Twelve EU citizens, 28 Syrians, and 14 Afghans. Among the Austrians, the police said 34 had a “migration background” – the report didn’t clarify precisely what that meant.

Serbs, Kosovars, North Macedonians, Romanians, Thais and Bosnians were also in the group.

READ ALSO: Tents for asylum seekers stir debate in Austria

However, authorities are still investigating the incident, and there is no final report on the age or nationality of all involved.

What was the role of social media? 

The other point that ensured the riots would stay in the headlines for a while was how they came to happen. 

According to the authorities, the initial evaluation is that the event was unorganised and the rioters had no clear structure. Instead, it was more likely “a loose gathering of young people who had joined forces via social media”, Der Standard reported.

The police are now looking into several videos on TikTok, where young people announced the rioting by saying they wanted to turn Linz “into Athena”. Some videos had more than 19,000 likes and comments discussing how the night would be of “war”.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Who are the asylum seekers trying to settle in Austria?

The Athena comment references a film available on the streaming platform Netflix. The plot centres on the chaos erupting in a French neighbourhood known as Athena after the brutal killing of a child of Algerian origin. Massive riots and confrontations between the police and the population are shown.

What is going to happen now?

The police are still piecing together everything that happened two days after the riots. On social media, there are calls for further rioting (on New Year’s Eve), and xenophobic and racist comments as well, with many blaming asylum seekers and migrants for the events. 

“There’s a lot of tension in the air,” Erich Wahl of the Youth and Leisure Association (VJF), which is in charge of youth work in Linz, told Der Standard on what could have motivated the riots. 

READ ALSO: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

Wahl mentioned that the Covid-19 crisis, inflation, and even the war in Ukraine could add to “built-up anger”, especially in young kids. Added to that, immigrants are often in a more difficult situation. 

For example, young people with Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi citizenship have a 21.9 percent unemployment rate, almost four times higher than for Austrians, the daily added.

Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) said the government wants to use “the full force of the law”.

Karner focused on the third-country citizens, saying their permits would be “examined” and that removal from the country could occur in serious criminal offences. 

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Could Austria ever change the rules to allow dual citizenship?

He added that he wanted deportations to happen also to Syria and Afghanistan, where most of the suspects were from, but mentioned that this would be in the “long-term”, as deportations to war states are not allowed under international law.