Austrian police warn public about ‘cleaning crew’ scam

Austrian residents have been targets of scammers pretending to be part of a cleaning crew. Here's what you need to know.

A police car in the city of Vienna, Austria

Austrian police have warned the public about a new scam happening in the country, with most cases occurring in the state of Carinthia.

According to the authorities, the suspects show up at a victim’s home (usually a house) and start doing cleaning work with a high-pressure jet until the person finally agrees to the service.

The police spoke of a case concerning a 93-year-old woman in Villach who paid several hundred euros to the scammers.

READ ALSO: Austrian police warn public about new ‘fake cops’ scam

Before the job is done, though, one of the workers pretends to be injured during work or does something else to distract the victim. At the same time, the other man goes unnoticed inside the house and steals jewellery and whatever he can find.

The police say that men and women have been noticed several times near Villach offering cleaning services and distributing flyers, with at least three different cars.

The authorities are asking anyone with information on the crimes to contact the Villach-Landskron police department.

Other scams in Austria

Several other scams and crimes are still happening in Austria and depend mainly on the “goodwill” of the victims.

The so-called “fake police officers” trick is still happening, with the suspects calling victims pretending to be police and finding different ways of getting money from them.

Most recently, this week, a 59-year-old woman in Graz received a call from alleged police officers who, over three hours of conversation, convinced her that there was a corrupt employee in her bank and she would have to get her valuables and leave them in front of her door.

She was told police officers would pick up the bag and keep it safe.

The scam is unfortunately quite common in Austria and many incidents have been reported to the police in recent weeks.

The authorities reiterated that they never ask you for money or valuables, that they will not ask you to transfer money to a bitcoin account (or any other account), and ask people to hang up the phone as soon as they get calls like this.

The police also ask people to notify older relatives and friends and make them aware of the scams.

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EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

Following the suicide of an Austrian doctor who received threats from Covid-19 anti-vaccination activists, the government has now launched a new campaign to help victims of online abuse.

EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

The Austrian medical community was left in shock in July when Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, a local doctor in Seewalchen am Attersee in Upper Austria, took her own life following months of online abuse.

Kellermayr, 36, had been targeted by anti-vaccination activists and Covid-19 conspiracy theorists for her out-spoken support of vaccines, and the abuse even included death threats. 

Her death prompted candlelight vigils and demonstrations in Vienna and the tragic story was picked up by news outlets around the world.

READ MORE: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

This led to calls for tighter laws against online bullying and the ability for perpetrators to be prosecuted in other EU countries – particularly as at least two of the people who are believed to have targeted Kellermayr are based in Germany, according to the Guardian.

The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) has even called for the creation of a special public prosecutor’s office to deal with “hate-on-the-net”, but this has been rejected by prosecutors and other political parties, as reported by ORF.

Instead, the Federal Justice Department has launched a new information campaign, website and hotline to help people dealing with online abuse.

FOR MEMBERS: What happens if you get arrested in Austria?

What is in the new campaign?

Austria’s Justice Minister Alma Zadic (Greens) said they have launched the campaign to raise awareness about the issue and to inform victims about the support available.

Zadic said: “It is important to me that those affected know that they are not alone in this situation and that the judiciary supports them with free psychological and legal process support.”

“You don’t have to cope alone with the extraordinary burdens that criminal proceedings can entail, for example through confrontation with the perpetrators.”

READ ALSO: Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Part of the support package is the new website Hilfe bei Gewalt (Help with Violence), which details how to access help from the authorities, as well as secure free legal advice and representation from a lawyer.

The website states the service is for victims of bullying and/or hate online, defamation, stalking, terrorism, incitement, sexual violence and robbery.

The service is designed to be anonymous with options to contact the Justice Department by phone or via a chat box. The website also lists contact details for regional support services in all provinces across Austria. 

The free (kostenlos) hotline for Hilfe bei Gewalt is 0800 112 112.

Useful links

Hilfe bei Gewalt

Austrian Federal Justice Department