Agents of the Economic and Fiscal Crime Unit (UDEF) of the National Police arrested eight people last week as alleged members of a plot that has allegedly defrauded thousands of people, mostly young people, with virtual courses on cryptocurrencies and financial transactions. , including some under 15 years of age, as reported by the Ministry of the Interior on Wednesday. The claim to attract the victims was the promise of obtaining large incomes in a short space of time if they followed the training given by IM Mastery Academy, the company identified as the epicenter of the deception and on the National Securities Market Commission (CNMV) already it had issued a warning that it was not authorized to provide services of a financial nature.
Those arrested captured the victims especially on social networks, such as Instagram, but also approaching them in public places, such as parks, and through massive events in hotels in which they were invited to join a movement that would allow them to forget about life. employment and achieve “financial freedom” if they enrolled in the training platform. To do this, they used “persuasion techniques typical of sectarian organizations,” the police point out in their note.
In fact, the so-called Operation Carcoma that has led to the arrests began in March last year after the Police received a complaint from the Sectarian Prevention and Abuse of Weakness Network (RedUNE), an organization that claimed to have detected irregularities in the activities of IM Mastery Academy, which, in 2019, had begun to attract young people in Barcelona, but had extended its activity to all of Spain. “The first complaint came to us in November 2020 from a school in Granada, which claimed that several students had surprisingly stopped going to class after contacting this academy,” Juantxo Domínguez, president of RedUNE, details in a telephone conversation.
From that call, this association began to collect information in other parts of Spain until presenting, four months later, a complaint in the courts of Plaza Castilla in Madrid. At that time, this organization quantified the number of affected families at about half a thousand and the fraud, at three million euros per year, according to details given to this newspaper by lawyer Carlos Bardoví, who represents a group of victims.
Police investigations have revealed that IM Mastery Academy offered virtual courses to learn how to invest in cryptocurrencies and other financial products, some of them not allowed in Spain and the EU, with the promise of being able to make large profits without working. To reinforce their message, the main members of the plot used social networks intensively, in whose profiles they showed a life full of high-end cars or luxury vacations that they presumed to have achieved thanks to the teachings of the academy.
The Police emphasize that the alleged leader of the plot presumed to be responsible for the direct or indirect capture of more than 2,500 people, although the investigators have not been able to specify the number of those affected so far. “There are many affected who finally do not take the step of denouncing”, police sources point out. In fact, the complainants are in many cases the parents of those affected. “The minors are not aware that they are victims of a deception and still believe that they can earn a lot of money,” these sources add.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
The courses were, in reality, recorded virtual classes in which, among other risk practices, the trading of binary options (products that allow you to invest in the rise or fall of currencies, commodities or stock indices) and leveraged operations ( borrowing) with cryptocurrencies, which are prohibited in Spain and in the European Union for retailers. To reinforce the credibility of the profitability, one of the main members of the plot showed in his account, supposedly audited by a well-known financial auditing website, a history of his investments in which a supposed percentage of success could be observed between the 75 and 80%.
However, once the young people paid the 200 euros of tuition and promised to pay another 150 euros a month, the education offered went into the background and the network began to pressure the victims to convince people in their family environment and school so that they would also sign up for the courses. To do so, the organization provided them with instructions and scripts with which to approach them and thus capture them. Thus began a pyramid scheme, since those who recruited two other people stopped paying the monthly fee. And if there were three of them and they in turn managed to capture other people, they began to collect from the network.
The Police have detected among the victims under the age of 15, many with a basic level of education, along with other students with higher education but without any prior relationship with the financial markets. For some of them, the plot pressured them with techniques typical of sects to fully devote themselves to the activity of attracting new victims, for whom they were urged to abandon their studies and even cut off their family relationships.
“During the trickery phase, they tried to convince them not to tell more mature people, such as their parents, about what they were doing to prevent them from detecting the deception,” police sources point out, adding that on numerous occasions they were invited to move to other cities. Two adolescents captured when they were 17 years old left their family homes to go live with members of the organization.
The investigations of the agents have also revealed that IM Mastery Academy was, in fact, the successor of another company, Imarketslive, about which a warning fell from the CNMV and about whose activities the stock market authorities of the United Kingdom had already warned in 2018 , France and Belgium. With the name change, the network allegedly intended to prevent potential victims from linking the name of the training platform to a scam through a simple internet search. The leader of the plot had contacts in the US with the alleged creator of these courses. The alleged implicated, all of them of Spanish nationality and without criminal records, were arrested in Barcelona (2), Santa Cruz de Tenerife (2), Alicante, Madrid, Malaga and Tarragona (one in each of these provinces). They are accused of the crimes of fraud, misleading advertising and belonging to a criminal organization.