INTERPOL celebrates huge cyber-crime Christmas present

Global police service, INTERPOL, has announced it has undertaken a transcontinental cyber operation which has netted what it described as “a staggering sum” and with it dealt a hammer blow to Asian based fraudsters.

The police operation against online financial crime resulted in 3,500 arrests and seizures of $300 million worth of assets across 34 countries.

In a six-month investigation, code named, Operation HAECHI IV police services targeted seven types of cyber-enabled scams: voice phishing, romance scams, online sextortion, investment fraud, money laundering associated with illegal online gambling, business email compromise fraud, and e-commerce fraud.

Investigators worked together to detect online fraud and freeze associated bank and virtual asset service provider (VASP) accounts using INTERPOL’s Global Rapid Intervention of Payments (I-GRIP), a stop-payment mechanism which helps countries work together to block criminal proceeds.

Cooperation between Filipino and Korean authorities led to the arrest in Manila of a high-profile online gambling criminal after a two-year manhunt by Korea’s National Police Agency.

Authorities blocked 82,112 suspicious bank accounts, seizing a combined $199 million in hard currency and $101 million in virtual assets.

INTERPOL’s executive director of police services Stephen Kavanagh said: “The seizure of $300 million represents a staggering sum and clearly illustrates the incentive behind today’s explosive growth of transnational organized crime. This represents the savings and hard-earned cash of victims. This vast accumulation of unlawful wealth is a serious threat to global security and weakens the economic stability of nations worldwide.

“HAECHI IV’s 200 per cent surge in arrests shows the persistent challenge of cyber-enabled crime, reminding us to stay alert and keep refining our tactics against online fraud, which is why INTERPOL operations like this are so important. Thank you to all concerned, especially colleagues from the Philippines and Korea.”

Investment fraud, business email compromise and e-commerce fraud accounted for 75 per cent of cases investigated in HAECHI IV.

Working with a number of VASPs, INTERPOL helped frontline officers identify 367 virtual asset accounts linked to transnational organized crime.  Police in member countries froze the assets and investigations are ongoing.

INTERPOL’s head of national central bureau in Korea, Kim Dong Kwon, explained: “It is remarkable that global efforts to stay ahead of the latest criminal trends have resulted in a substantial growth in operational outcomes.

“Despite criminals’ endeavours to gain illicit advantages through contemporary trends, they will eventually be apprehended and face due punishment. To accomplish this, Project HAECHI will consistently evolve and expand its scope.”

Two Purple Notices were published during Operation HAECHI IV warning countries about emerging digital investment fraud practices.

One alerted INTERPOL member countries to a new scam detected in Korea involving the sale of Non-Fungible Tokens with promises of huge returns, which turned out to be a “rug pull”, a growing scam in the crypto industry where developers abruptly abandon a project and investors lose their money.

The second purple notice warned about the use of AI and deep fake technology to lend credibility to scams by enabling criminals to hide their identities and to pretend to be family member, friends or love interests.

The UK leg of the operation reported several cases where AI-generated synthetic content was used to deceive, defraud, harass, and extort victims, particularly through impersonation scams, online sexual blackmail, and investment fraud. Cases also involved the impersonation of people known to the victims through voice cloning technology.