Amid an exponential increase in online fraud, an operation coordinated by INTERPOL, dubbed HAECHI-I, mobilized more than 40 specialized law enforcement officers in the Asia-Pacific region.
During six months of coordinated intelligence gathering and joint operations, police were able to intercept a total of $ 83 million in illicit funds transferred from victims to cybercrime perpetrators.
Officially concluded towards the end of May, Operation HAECHI-I focused in particular on five types of online financial crimes: investment fraud, romance scams, money laundering associated with gambling illegal money online, online sextortion and voice phishing.
More than 1,400 investigations were initiated during the six-month operational phase of HAECHI-I (September 2020 – March 2021) – many of which are still ongoing – and 892 cases have been resolved.
While the operation focused on the Asia-Pacific region, the borderless nature of these online crimes meant that investigations quickly expanded to include law enforcement on all continents.
A total of 585 people have been arrested and more than 1,600 bank accounts around the world have been frozen throughout the operation.
Almost 100 INTERPOL advisories and broadcasts were eventually published based on information gathered during the operation.
“Online fraudsters often attempt to exploit the borderless nature of the Internet by targeting victims in other countries or by transferring their illicit funds overseas,” said Ilana de Wild, Director of Organized Crime and emergence of INTERPOL.
“The results of Operation HAECHI-I demonstrate that online financial crime is fundamentally global and that only close international cooperation will allow us to effectively combat these criminals,” added Ms. de Wild.
In early February, a Korean company was approached by what appeared to be one of their business partners to demand payment of a series of invoices. However, the bank details on the invoices had been fraudulently changed. The company ultimately transferred nearly $ 7 million to the fraudster; money that was quickly funneled into bank accounts in Indonesia and Hong Kong, China.
Shortly after the company reported the scam to authorities, Korean law enforcement alerted INTERPOL’s financial crimes unit and relevant INTERPOL contact points. The swift collaborative action has already enabled officers to intercept and freeze half of the stolen funds while the investigation continues.
“The key factors in intercepting illicit money transfers are speed and international cooperation,” said Amur Chandra, Indonesian National Police Brigadier General and Secretary of INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Indonesia. “The sooner victims notify law enforcement, the faster we can communicate with INTERPOL and law enforcement in the affected countries to recover their funds and put these criminals behind bars.”
In another investment fraud case known as the “ramp and dump” system, a criminal syndicate in Hong Kong, China coordinated the purchase of a large amount of specific stocks, increasing suddenly the share price. The group then took to social media, encouraging users to invest in this uptrend, pushing the share price even higher. At an agreed high, the union sold its shares, profiting from the high price that collapsed soon after and leaving investors scammed with large losses.
Fortunately, law enforcement moved quickly, freezing problematic business accounts and recovering the vast majority of victims’ funds. Based on reports of ramp and landfill projects in at least two other countries in the region, INTERPOL is also sharing this modus operandi with other countries that may be at risk.
The following countries participated in INTERPOL’s Operation HAECHI-I: Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Korea, Laos, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Operation HAECHI-I is the first of a three-year project to combat financial cybercrime supported by the Republic of Korea.
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