More than 1,000 arrested on online fraud in 20 nations

In an unprecedented move, police have arrested 1,003 individuals across 22 jurisdictions in the last few months as part of an Interpol-coordinated operation against online financial crimes, including business email compromise (BEC) scams.

“Far from the common notion of online fraud as a relatively low-level and low stakes type of criminality, the results of Operation HAECHI-II show that transnational organized crime groups have been using the Internet to extract millions from their victims before funneling the illicit cash to bank accounts across the globe,” the international criminal police organization said.

As such, law enforcement across 20 nations, including authorities from Hong Kong and Macao were able to apprehend 1,003 individuals, close 1,660 cases and block 2,350 bank accounts linked with illicit funds gained from cybercrime as part of Interpol’s Operation HAECHI-II, as well as identify ten new tactics utilized by cybercriminals.

The arrests were made between June and September, which involved various forms of online fraud crime, including romance scams, investment fraud, and money laundering linked to online gambling.

Operation HAECHI-II involved law enforcement from Angola, Brunei, Cambodia, Colombia, China, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Korea (Rep. of), Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Philippines, Romania, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In addition, the operation specifically targeted BEC, which involves tricking staff into wiring large sums to supposed suppliers or contractors, often by using emails that appear to be sent by someone more senior in the organization.

Also, the FBI estimated that BEC scams cost U.S. businesses $1.8 billion in 2020, overshadowing the reported $29 million in losses attributed to ransomware. The scammers have also taken a leaf from the ransomware business by moving to a services-based model where components are rented out to different parties.

Interpol’s Secretary General Jurgen Stock said in a press statement, “The results of Operation HAECHI-II show that the surge in online financial crime generated by the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of waning.

It also underlines the essential and unique role played by INTERPOL in assisting member countries combat a crime which is borderless by nature. Only through this level of global cooperation and coordination can national law enforcement effectively tackle what is a parallel cybercrime pandemic.”

Interpol highlighted a case in Colombia where a textiles company lost more than $8 million to a BEC scam.

“The perpetrators impersonated the legal representative of the company, giving the order to transfer more than $16 million to two Chinese bank accounts. Half of the money was transferred before the company uncovered the fraud and alerted the Colombian judicial authorities, which in turn quickly contacted Interpol’s financial crime unit through their National Central Bureau in Bogota,” Interpol said.

To freeze the transferred funds, Interpol worked with its bureaus in Beijing, Bogota, and Hong Kong, while in another case, a company in Slovenia transferred $800,000 to money mule accounts in China.