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What just happened? A massive, six-month police operation that saw 34 nations cooperating, with financial aid from South Korea, has resulted in the arrest of almost 3,500 alleged cybercriminals for a wide range of crimes. Authorities have also seized $300 million in cash and digital assets.
International police organization Interpol revealed the transcontinental operation against online financial crime this week.
Dubbed Operation HAECHI IV, the op targeted seven of the most common online scams: voice phishing, romance, sextortion, investment fraud, money laundering associated with illegal online gambling, business email compromise fraud, and e-commerce fraud. Three-quarters of the crimes investigated involved business email compromise, e-commerce fraud, and investment fraud.
As part of the operation, authorities blocked 82,112 suspicious bank accounts, seizing a combined $199 million in hard currency and $101 million in virtual assets. Officers also identified 367 virtual asset accounts linked to transnational organized crime.
One of the scams used by the criminals was the popular NFT "rug-pull" scheme in which investors are promised huge returns if they invest in the digital tokens, only for the operators to disappear with the money, leaving the buyers with worthless digital images they paid thousands for. In March last year, two men aged 20 years old at the time were arrested after they made $1.1 million from an NFT "rug-pull" scam.
Interpol also warned about the new threat of AI and deep fake technology being used to trick people into believing they are talking to friends or family members, either over the phone or on video calls. The voice-based version of the scam has been used to steal thousands of dollars from victims in the US and Canada this year.
In June, the FBI warned that criminals are harvesting images from social media sites, using them to create sexually explicit deepfakes of the victims, then blackmailing the targets by threatening to send the pictures and videos to friends and family.
Interpol highlighted how the operation involved cooperation between Filipino and Korean authorities that led to the arrest in Manila of a high-profile online gambling criminal after a two-year manhunt by Korea's National Police Agency.
"The seizure of USD 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," Interpol's Executive Director of Police Services, Stephen Kavanagh, said.