A gang of Austrian scammers are on the run from European police and Interpol after the implosion of their “Optioment” pyramid scheme.

Police stations throughout Austria have received hundreds of complaints against Optioment. Prosecutors in Vienna are sifting through them and bringing together a case against the gang. The nature of the group, and of the victims, who also come from Germany, Poland and the Balkans, has prompted the Austrian police to bring in Interpol.

So far two of the gang have been identified, with Interpol tasked with finding further suspects who are currently in Denmark, Latvia and Germany.

The Optioment program had all the hallmarks of a classic pyramid scheme. They ran both a website and in-person events, led by three Austrians who called themselves “The Three Musketeers”. Describing their product as a “private Costa Rica-based Bitcoin fund”, the musketeers promised weekly interest payments on Bitcoin deposits, earned through arbitrage trading. Investors who brought in new investors would also be rewarded.

An archived version of the website is still online. They claim to pay “a 2% weekly interest on your Bitcoin deposit” and that your deposit is guaranteed. Optioment describes its offering as “risk free”. According to them, “your Bitcoins are always safe with us, as OPTIOMENT carries all the risks”.

At first the scheme paid out to its investors, encouraging them into further investment. Then, towards the end of last year, payments stopped, and the complaints started to mount. Austrian newspaper Die Presse estimates that there may be more than 10,000 victims, and that over 12,000 Bitcoin could have been stolen – at current prices that’s $120 million.  

Austrian regulatory body FMA were powerless against the group as they were not doing anything which required a license. However, they did keep files on Optioment, and have handed those over to prosecutors.

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