INTERPOL seizes $300 million, arrests 3,500 in sting operation across Nigeria, Ghana, 32 other countries

Why Interpol arrested 28-year-old Nigerian in South Africa

The INTERPOL on Tuesday announced the conclusion of a transcontinental police operation against online financial crime with almost 3,500 arrests and seizures of $300 million worth of assets across 34 countries.

The six-month Operation HAECHI IV (July-December 2023) 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.

According to INTERPOL, the operation was carried out across 34 countries, which include Argentina, Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Cayman Islands, Ghana, Hong Kong (China), 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, Viet Nam.

The operation

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

It added that 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.

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

Threat to global security

Speaking on the operation, INTERPOL’s Executive Director of Police Services, Stephen Kavanagh, said:

  • “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.
  • “HAECHI IV’s 200% 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.”

Emerging digital investment fraud

Working with several VASPs, INTERPOL said it helped frontline officers identify 367 virtual asset accounts linked to transnational organized crime.

INTERPOL’s Head of the National Central Bureau in Korea, Kim Dong Kwon, said the body has warned member countries about emerging digital investment fraud practices.

  • “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,” Dong Kwon stated.
  • “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 members, friends, or love interests,” he added.

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.

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