Amer Owaida, Security Writer at ESET highlights that a recent INTERPOL- led operation involved law enforcement from 20 countries and led to the seizure of millions of dollars in illicit gain
Law enforcement agencies from around the globe have swooped down on hundreds of people suspected of committing various types of online crime, including romance scams, investment fraud and money laundering operations. The international effort led to the arrests of more than 1,000 individuals and the seizure of almost US$27 million in illicit gains.
The operation, spearheaded by Interpol and dubbed HAECHI-II, was carried out over a span of four months and involved law enforcement from 20 countries, as well as authorities from Hong Kong and Macao. The authorities 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 well as identify ten new tactics utilized by cybercriminals.
“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,” said INTERPOL’s Secretary General Jurgen Stock in a press statement lauding the success of the operation.
In one case, a Colombia-based textile company was defrauded out of more than US$8 million by cybercriminals using a sophisticated business email compromise (BEC) attack. The scammers posed as legal representatives of the company and ordered that over US$16 million be wired to two Chinese bank accounts.
Half of the funds were already transferred before the defrauded company caught on to the scam and alerted the Colombian authorities. Fortunately, over 94% of the funds were intercepted thanks to the quick reaction by INTERPOL’s offices in Hong Kong, Beijing and Bogota.
Meanwhile, in another case, a Slovenian company was tricked into wiring over US$800,000 to money mule accounts in China. In cooperation with foreign authorities, the Slovenian Criminal Police were able to intercept and return the funds.
The operation also yielded substantial information on emerging development in online financial crime. Authorities in Colombia were able to uncover a malware-laced mobile application that masqueraded as being affiliated with the Netflix hit series Squid Games. Once the victim downloaded the trojan, it hacked the user’s billing information and opened subscriptions to paid premium services, with the user being none the wiser.
“Online scams like those leveraging malicious apps evolve as quickly as the cultural trends they opportunistically exploit,” warned INTERPOL’s Criminal Networks Assistant Director José De Gracia. He went on to add that sharing information of emerging threats is key for law enforcement to be able to protect victims of financial cybercrime.