Police in 34 countries arrested 3,500 people and seized assets worth $300 million in the latest iteration of what has become an annual coordinated global crackdown on cybercrime.
According to Interpol, Operation HAECHI IV ran from July to December and targeted seven types of scams: voice phishing, romance scams, online sextortion, investment fraud, money laundering associated with illegal online gambling, business email compromise fraud, and e-commerce fraud.
As a result of the operation, authorities blocked 82,112 suspicious bank accounts, seizing a total of $199 million in hard currency and a further $101 million worth of virtual assets.
Interpol’s executive director of police services, Stephen Kavanagh, said the “staggering” sum seized was a clear illustration of the incentives that were driving an explosive growth in transnational organized crime.
“This represents the savings and hard-earned cash of victims,” he said. “This vast accumulation of unlawful wealth is a serious threat to global security and weakens the economic stability of nations worldwide.”
Interpol said Operation HAECHI IV involved investigators working together to detect online fraud and freeze associated bank and virtual asset service provider accounts using Interpol’s Global Rapid Intervention of Payments (I-GRIP), a stop-payment mechanism which helps countries work together to block criminal proceeds.
Interpol helped frontline officers identify 367 virtual asset accounts linked to transnational organized crime. Assets in those accounts have been frozen as local police continue their investigations.
Dragnet pulls in more AI-powered crime
In one case resulting from the operation, Filipino and Korean authorities worked together to apprehend a “high-profile online gambling criminal” who was arrested in Manila after spending two years on the run from Korea's National Police Agency. The illegal gambling operation the man allegedly ran was dismantled.
Interpol published two “purple notices” – warnings about emerging digital investment fraud practices – during the operation.
One alerted police around the world to a new scam detected in Korea involving the sale of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) with promises of huge returns, which turned out to be a “rug pull” scam where the 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 a family member, friend, or love interests of the person they are attempting to dupe.
“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,” Interpol said.
“Cases also involved the impersonation of people known to the victims through voice cloning technology.”
Investment fraud, business email compromise and e-commerce fraud accounted for 75% of cases investigated during the operation.
Arrests and seizures keep growing
A similar operation last year, HAECHI III, netted almost 1000 arrests and $130 million in assets.
“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” Kavanagh said.
The first operation in the series, HAECHI-I, involved police from nine countries in Asia working together between September 2020 and March 2021 to make 585 arrests and seize $83 million.
Interpol’s head of National Central Bureau in Korea, Kim Dong Kwon, praised the international policing effort that led to the increased results achieved by HAECHI IV.
“Despite criminals' endeavors 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.”
As SentinalOne explained in a 2021 post about HAECHI-II: in Korea, Haechi is a popular mythical animal widely used as a symbol of justice. The countries participating in this year’s operation were: Argentina, Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Cayman Islands, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Korea, Romania, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam. Hong Kong also participated.