Cybercrime has been on the rise for the past two decades. The anonymity that the Internet creates, along with its global reach, provides online scammers with the ability to enhance and expand their schemes. As the Internet grew, Cybercrime evolved alongside it, allowing criminals to access and dominate poorly regulated industries like cryptocurrency, binary options, forex, and other investment and trading vehicles. Communication has never been easier. VPNs, encrypted messages, private rooms, and even video games allow criminals to correspond, plan, coordinate, and carry out fraudulent transactions on an international scale.
Internet fraud saw a sharp uptick worldwide since the pandemic hit as more people flooded to their computer screens and moved away from physical meetings. Arkose Labs reported over 1.1 billion fraud cases at the beginning of 2020 alone, nearly double the volume recorded in the first half of 2020. According to this report, nearly 39% of Europeans have experienced some type of Internet money fraud in the past 2 years, and an FBI report records that Internet-enabled crime is up 69%.
Sitting at the center of this epidemic are illegal organizations masquerading as legal companies, while in reality stealing their customer’s hard-earned money. Online trading platforms are somewhat infamous for their predatory practices. While not all trading platforms outright rob investors, a great deal of them has scammed a total of billions of dollars out of unknowing customers. The story of the wolves of Tel Aviv and Yukom communications come to mind, and the most dangerous of these fraudulent trading platforms still operate.
Avi Iztcovich and Jack Wygodsky, owners of Mercure Media and the masterminds behind the boiler rooms in Bulgaria Sofia, North Macedonia, and Israel are two of the most notorious scammers in the industry with known connections to organized crime families both in Israel and Bulgaria. They kept their operations afloat even after the first arrests of forex and binary options scammers began in 2018. They have been connected to LibraMarket, UproFX, and a long list of unregulated, fraudulent options platforms that have been outed and banned.
Itzkovich, Wygodsky, and their co-conspirators switched between platforms frequently, abandoning burnt businesses and propping up fresh ones. Exploiting the modern social media platforms and search engine ads, their boiler room reeled in fresh investors with promises of high yield on their Cryptocurrency, Forex, and Binary Options trades and investments.
Once a client deposited money, they kept them hooked with bonuses, upsells, “professional” personalized traders, and other “lucrative” offers. They manipulated trades on their back end to ensure the platforms profited regardless of the actual situation.
They also relied heavily on cold-selling tactics and called up thousands upon thousands of people using phone number spoofers and a false name and identity to build trust. Their reach extended throughout Europe and beyond, and their fraudulent platforms exploited people from Spain, Germany, Israel, the United States, the UK, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Australia, and other countries.
Europol, Eurojust, the FBI, and a joint task force of international law enforcement agencies have been hunting these scammers aggressively, leveraging the same resources they used to proliferate and cheat investors: the Internet.
Avi Itzcovich, along with ten other members of his gang, was captured during a raid carried out on May 11, 2021. Several locations worldwide were hit simultaneously, and property, electronics, and $2.4 million in cash were seized. His partner in crime, Jack Wygodsky, remains on the run and is wanted by several law enforcement agencies in various countries.