Governance

More Than $250M Seized In Global Online Scam Crackdown

Dubbed “Operation First Light,” the crackdown targeting phishing, investment fraud, fake online shopping sites, romance and impersonation scams led to the arrest of 3,950 suspects and identified 14,643 others worldwide.

by Mihir Bagwe June 27, 2024

Source: Interpol

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A coordinated international police operation led by Interpol has resulted in the disruption of global online scam networks that carried out phishing, investment fraud, romance and impersonation scams and operated fake online shopping sites.

The global operation, codenamed “First Light,” led to the seizure of assets amounting to $257 million and froze more than 6,700 bank accounts linked to the online scam syndicates.

Under the banner of Operation First Light 2024, the police also arrested a total of 3,950 suspects and identified another 14,643 as likely members of the global online scam syndicates.

“By confiscating such large amounts of money, and disrupting the networks behind them, we not only safeguard our communities but also deal a significant blow to the transnational organized crime groups that pose such a serious threat to global security.” – Director of Interpol’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre (IFCACC), Dr Isaac Kehinde Oginni

Global Online Scam Crackdown Impact

The impact of this police operation against global online scam is “more than just numbers – they represent lives protected, crimes prevented, and a healthier global economy worldwide,” Oginni said.

Interpol’s Global Rapid Intervention of Payments (I-GRIP) mechanism traced and intercepted the illicit proceeds from online scams across borders in both, fiat currency cash ($135 million) and cryptocurrency ($2 million).

An example of this interception was a business email compromise fraud that involved a Spanish citizen who unwittingly transferred $331,000 to Hong Kong, China, the Interpol said.

In another case, the Australian authorities successfully recovered AU$ 5.5 million (approximately $3.7 million) for an impersonation scam victim, after the online scammers fraudulently transferred the funds to Malaysia and Hong Kong-based bank accounts.

The global nature of online scams was underscored by the operation’s diverse participants. From rescuing 88 young people forced to work in a Namibian scam ring to preventing a tech support scam targeting a senior citizen in Singapore, Operation First Light 2024 showcased the importance of international cooperation.

Operations of First Light have been coordinated since 2014 and are designed to fight social engineering and telecom fraud. The operation is funded by China’s Ministry of Public Security and coordinated by Interpol.

Operation First Light conclusion meeting in Tianjin, China (Source: Interpol)

In 2022, First Light saw a coordinated effort between law enforcement of 76 countries that resulted in the seizure of $50 million worth of illicit funds that was defrauded from more than 24,000 victims.

“The world is grappling with the severe challenges of social engineering fraud, and organized crime groups are operating from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Africa, with victims on every continent,” Oginni said.

“No country is immune to this type of crime, and combating it requires very strong international cooperation.” Dr Isaac Kehinde Oginni

Investment and Phishing Scams Top Threats to U.S.

According to FBI’s Internet Crime report (IC3), Investment scams led to the highest reported losses in the United Stated last year. Totaling $4.57 billion, investment scams saw a 38% increase from 2022. Crypto-investment fraud also rose 53% to $3.94 billion. Scammers mainly targeted individuals aged 30-49 in these scam types.

Phishing schemes, on the other hand, were the most reported crime in 2023, with over 298,000 complaints, comprising 34% of all complaints received. In the FBI San Francisco division, there were 364 complaints with nearly $1.5 million in losses. Santa Clara County had the most complaints, while Alameda County had the highest losses at $500,000.

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