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Hundreds arrested, millions seized in global INTERPOL investigation

By Jessie Chiang
Mon 20 Jun 2022

A two-month-long investigation by INTERPOL between March and May this year involved 76 countries and clamped down on organised crime groups behind telecommunications and social engineering scams.

INTERPOL says police in participating countries raided national call centres suspected of telecommunications or scamming fraud, particularly telephone deception, romance scams, email deception, and connected financial crime.

Preliminary figures reached so far include:

  • 1,770 locations raided worldwide
  • 3,000 suspects identified
  • 2,000 operators, fraudsters and money launderers arrested
  • 4,000 bank accounts frozen
  • USD $50 million worth of illicit funds intercepted

INTERPOL says emerging trends from the operation, named Operation Firstlight 2022, included how money mule herders are laundering money through the personal bank accounts of victims, and social media platforms are driving human trafficking.

There’s also an increase in vishing fraud with criminals pretending to be bank officials to trick victims into sharing online log-in details and growth in cybercriminals posing as INTERPOL officials to obtain money from victims believing themselves to be under investigation.

INTERPOL director of financial crime and anti-corruption centre (IFCACC) Rory Corcoran says telecom and BEC fraud are sources of serious concern for many countries and have a hugely damaging effect on economies, businesses and communities.

“The international nature of these crimes can only be addressed successfully by law enforcement working together beyond borders, which is why INTERPOL is critical to providing police the world over with a coordinated tactical response,” he says.

The head of INTERPOL’s national central bureau in Beijing Duan Daqi says the transnational and digital nature of different types of telecom and social engineering fraud continues to present grave challenges for local police authorities.

He says perpetrators operate from a different country or even continent than their victims and keep updating their fraud schemes.

“INTERPOL provides a unique platform for police cooperation to address this challenge. Though Operation Firstlight 2022 is concluded, our collective law enforcement efforts will continue as the crimes persist,” he says.

INTERPOL says to identify the criminal assets that would require interception during tactical operations, countries share intelligence via its secure global police communications network I-24/7 ahead of time.

This feeds INTERPOL’s financial crimes analysis file with data on suspects, suspicious bank accounts, unlawful transactions and communications means such as telephone numbers, email addresses, fraudulent websites and IP addresses.

Other key results

INTERPOL says the Singapore Police Force rescued a teenage scam victim who had been tricked into pretending to be kidnapped, sending videos of himself with fake wounds to his parents and seeking a EUR €1.5 million ransom.

A Chinese national, wanted in connection with a Ponzi scheme and estimated to have defrauded nearly 24,000 victims out of EUR €34 million, was arrested in Papua New Guinea and returned to China via Singapore.

INTERPOL says with the Internet creating new online career prospects, companies and professionals who turn to e-commerce affiliates and EBShopp business opportunities are increasingly being scammed.

The Singapore Police Force also arrested eight suspects linked to Ponzi-like job scams. Scammers would offer high-paying online marketing jobs via social media and messaging systems. Victims would initially make small earnings and subsequently be required to recruit more members to earn commissions.

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