A worldwide crackdown on social engineering fraud has seen scammers identified globally, substantial criminal assets seized and new investigative leads triggered in every continent.
The two-month (8 March – 8 May 2022) Operation, codenamed First Light 2022, saw 76 countries take part in an international clampdown on the organized crime groups behind telecommunications and social engineering scams.
Police in participating countries raided national call centres suspected of telecommunications or scamming fraud, particularly telephone deception, romance scams, e-mail deception, and connected financial crime.
Although results are still coming in, preliminary figures reached so far include:
- 1,770 locations raided worldwide
- Some 3,000 suspects identified
- Some 2,000 operators, fraudsters and money launderers arrested
- Some 4,000 bank accounts frozen
- Some USD 50 million worth of illicit funds intercepted
Social engineering fraud refers to scams which manipulate or trick people into giving out confidential or personal information which can then be used for criminal financial gain.
Based on intelligence exchanged in the framework of the operation, the Singapore Police Force rescued a teenage scam victim who had been tricked into pretending to be kidnapped, sending videos of himself with fake wounds to his parents and seeking a EUR 1.5 million ransom.
A Chinese national wanted in connection with a Ponzi scheme estimated to have defrauded nearly 24,000 victims out of EUR 34 million was arrested in Papua New Guinea and returned to China via Singapore.
With the Internet creating new online career prospects, companies and professionals who turn to e-commerce affiliate and EBShopp business opportunities are increasingly being scammed.
As part of Operation First Light 2022, the Singapore Police Force arrested eight suspects linked to Ponzi-like job scams. Scammers would offer high-paying online marketing jobs via social media and messaging systems where victims would initially make small earnings, and subsequently be required to recruit more members to earn commissions.
Emerging trends uncovered during operations were shared with member countries in the form of INTERPOL purple notices detailing:
- the way money mule herders are laundering money through the personal bank accounts of victims;
- how social media platforms are driving human trafﬁcking, entrapping people into forced labour, sexual slavery, or captivity in casinos or on fishing vessels;
- an increase in vishing fraud with criminals pretending to be bank officials to trick victims into sharing online log-in details;
- a growth in cybercriminals posing as INTERPOL officials to obtain money from victims believing themselves to be under investigation.
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