Young women were used in a love scam to trick elderly Italian men out of €1 million, say police.
The women would be employed as domestic workers in a bid to convince lonely men in Calabria, southern Italy, to part with their money.
They would often enter into a physical relationship with their victims, who were aged between 70 and 90 years old, according to Europol. Different scams were used to get the men to lend them money, including personal health problems or sickness of a family member.
One victim lost nearly €20,000, while another suffered two heart attacks after one of the women secretly administered him with Valium before robbing his house.
The European police agency Europol said the criminal organisation behind the scam has been dismantled, with 13 arrests made on Thursday.
The investigation involved police from Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Romania.
“The victims would transfer large sums to the women,” said Europol in a statement. “Just one of the victims lost almost €20,000 because of this trickery.
“Other members of the criminal group would collect the money and then wire it to Romania via different money transfer services.
“The criminal assets were then laundered in Romania through investments in real estate, vehicles and gold.
“The investigation estimates that the criminal gang managed to gain more than €1 million through this criminal activity.
“During the investigation, law enforcement identified 56 members of the criminal gang, with 16 of them being key actors in the scheme. Investigators localised a number of these suspects in Romania, Germany and links to the Netherlands.”