Police worldwide crack down on online fraud, seizing $257 million

Lyon, France – A global police operation spanning 61 countries resulted in the freezing of 6,745 bank accounts and the seizure of assets totalling $257 million, disrupting the international organized crime networks involved and dealing a financial blow to online fraud networks.

Operation First Light 2024, which targeted phishing, investment fraud, fake online shopping sites, romance scams and identity theft, led to the arrest of 3,950 suspects across all continents and the identification of 14,643 other suspects.

In total, police seized approximately $135 million worth of fiat currency and $2 million worth of cryptocurrency. Fiat currencies, such as the US dollar, euro, and yen, are official currencies issued and regulated by governments.

Other assets worth more than $120 million were also seized, including real estate, luxury vehicles, expensive jewelry, and many other expensive items and collections.

Operation First Light 2024 led to the arrest of 3,950 suspects, including here in the Philippines, and the identification of 14,643 other suspects across all continents.

Authorities in Hong Kong, China have arrested several suspects as part of a global effort to combat phishing, investment fraud, fake online shopping sites, romance scams and identity theft.

In Brazil, federal police have seized a wide range of assets belonging to suspected fraudsters as part of Operation First Light 2024, including luxury goods, expensive jewelry, laptops and mobile phones.

Brazilian Federal Police confiscated a large amount of expensive jewelry, including these expensive watches.

The suspect arrested in Brazil was among nearly 4,000 suspected fraudsters arrested during Operation First Light.

During Operation First Light, authorities seized assets believed to belong to suspected fraudsters, including this luxury vehicle in Brazil.

Data stored on mobile devices, computers and phones seized during Operation First Light, here in Hong Kong and elsewhere, has been handed over to Interpol Secretariat Headquarters for analysis.

When requested, INTERPOL’s Secretariat Headquarters deployed specialist personnel to the field, such as here in Namibia, to assist local police in coordinating in-country activities within the global operation.

Operation First Light is funded by China’s Ministry of Public Security, which hosted the operation’s end-of-life conference in Tianjin this year.

Police used Interpol’s International Rapid Payment Intervention (I-GRIP) mechanism to track and interdict illicit proceeds of crime in both fiat and cryptocurrencies, seizing US$331,000 in a business email compromise case involving a Spanish victim sending money to Hong Kong, China.

Similarly, in a separate case, Australian authorities successfully recovered AUD5.5 million (USD3.7 million) on behalf of a victim of identity fraud after funds were fraudulently transferred to bank accounts in Malaysia and Hong Kong, China.

Dr Isaac Kehinde Oginni, Director of INTERPOL’s Financial Crime and Combat Corruption Centre (IFCACC), said:

“The success of this global policing effort is more than just numbers – it represents lives saved, crimes prevented and a healthier global economy.

“By seizing these huge sums of money and disrupting the networks behind them, we are not only protecting our local communities, but also dealing a major blow to transnational organized crime groups that pose a serious threat to global security.”

Speaking on behalf of China’s Ministry of Public Security, Wang Yong, director of INTERPOL’s Central Bureau in Beijing, said:

“The world is grappling with a serious problem of social engineering scams, with organized crime groups operating from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Africa, affecting victims on every continent.”

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

Notable achievements of the operation included the dismantling of a sophisticated international fraud network in the Namibian capital, which led to the rescue of 88 local youths who had been coerced into committing fraud. Authorities seized 163 computers and 350 mobile phones, and the data contained therein was handed over to Interpol Secretariat Headquarters for analysis.

Similarly, collaboration between the Singapore Police Force’s Anti-Fraud Centre, the China Hong Kong Police Force’s Anti-Fraud Coordination Centre and a local bank thwarted an attempted tech support scam, saving a 70-year-old victim from losing his life savings worth S$380,000 (US$281,200).

A joint investigation by Brazilian and Portuguese authorities has taken down several fraud networks operating around the world.

Operation First Light has been strengthened with the participation of four regional police agencies: AFRIPOL, ASEANAPOL, GCCPOL and Europol.

Operation First Light is funded by China’s Ministry of Public Security, which recently hosted a final meeting in Tianjin, bringing participating countries together to analyze results, share intelligence and plan future operations.

Operation First Light 2024 was scheduled to begin in 2023 and culminate in its final tactical phase from March to May 2024.

INTERPOL has been coordinating Operation First Light since 2014 to strengthen cooperation and efforts among member states to combat social engineering and telecommunications fraud.

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