Two scammers who never presented themselves in person and were able to deceive businessmen only through telephone contact were able to cheat at least 50 establishments out of 400 to 600 euros each time, from north to south of the country.
The Judiciary Police (PJ), through the Southern Directorate, in the context of an ongoing investigation, identified and detained two men today, Wednesday, July 22, for the alleged crimes of qualified fraud, extortion and abuse of designation, sign or uniform, that occurred over the last few months, in different areas of the country, from the Algarve to Minho.
At a press conference this afternoon at the headquarters of the PJ in Faro, the head of the Southern Directorate of the Judicial Police (PJ), António Madureira, said that the suspects, both residing in the greater Lisbon area, were making themselves appear to be inspectors from the Food and Economic Security Authority (ASAE).
The detainees, 55 and 32 years old, have no known professional activity and are registered with a criminal record for crimes of theft and drug trafficking in the past. The deception was launched on the victims, owners of commercial establishments, mainly restaurants, making them believe that there were pending lawsuits about possible customer complaints. The con artists offered an easy solution. Upon payment, by bank transfer, of amounts ranging from 400 to 600 euros, the pending cases would be terminated immediately.
“The victims were told that there had been a complaint and that if they paid a fee, the process would be closed,” he said. For now, the PJ knows that there are commercial establishments throughout the country affected by the scam. The investigator highlights that the con artists were able to, by telephone, extort “tens of thousands of euros” from businessmen.
For António Madureira, the victims were often not even suspicious of the scheme they had fallen into, as they concluded that the problem (which never existed) would have been solved, after having paid the false ASAE inspectors.
“They did not see the need to denounce anything, and they thought that this had been a normal, regular activity” because it is part of a government entity. In the meantime, a small minority of affected establishments, alongside the ASAE itself, informed the PJ of what was happening. Police authorities admit that they are experiencing difficulties in knowing for sure how many restaurants have been affected by the fraudsters, which led to an investigation that started around six months ago. “I want to appeal to all possible victims, because we believe that we are only aware of a very small part of what this group has done.”
“Only in this way will we be able to have criminal liability in line with the activity of this group”, Madureira told reporters. “People must be aware that the inspection entities do not close processes in exchange for money. If there is an irregularity that could constitute an offense, the authorities open a case, with all the guarantees of defence.”