July 24, 2024

Led by Interpol, a significant international police endeavour has unveiled and disrupted online scam networks around the world. These networks engaged in phishing, impersonation and romance scams, investment fraud, and operating fake online shopping websites.

The operation was named “First Light” and resulted in seizing assets worth $257 million and freezing around 6,700 bank accounts linked to the online scammers.

As part of Operation First Light 2024, there were almost 4,000 arrests, and another 14,643 individuals were identified as potential members of these online scam organisations.

Interpol’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre director, Dr Isaac Kehinde Oginni, emphasized the importance of seizing these funds and disrupting scam networks to ensure global security and safety from transnational organised crime groups.

Effects Of The Global Online Scam Takedown

Dr. Oginni articulated that the operation’s impact stretches beyond numbers. Protecting lives, anticipating crimes, and promoting a robust global economy epitomise its broader scope, he said.

The Interpol’s Global Rapid Intervention of Payments system traced and intercepted illicit proceedings from these scams across borders, seizing $135 million as cash and $2 million in cryptocurrency.

An instance of such interception was a business email fraud involving a Spanish citizen who unknowingly transferred $331,000 to Hong Kong, China.

On another occasion, Australian authorities successfully recuperated around AU$5.5 million (nearly $3.7 million) for an impersonation scam victim whose payments were deceptively redirected to Malaysia and Hong Kong linked bank accounts.

The universal scope of online scams was accentuated by diverse participation in the operation’s efforts. From rescuing 88 youths engaged in a Namibian scam ring to preventing a tech support scam against a senior Singaporean resident, Operation First Light 2024 underlined the significance of global cooperation.

Since 2014, First Light operations have been fighting social engineering and telecom fraud. The endeavour is sponsored by China’s Ministry of Public Security and coordinated by Interpol.


Operation First Light concluding conference in Tianjin, China (Source: Interpol)

In 2022, First Light consolidated the efforts of law enforcement agencies from 76 countries, seizing $50 million in unlawfully acquired funds from over 24,000 victims.

Dr. Oginni warned how the world is struggling with social engineering fraud, with organized crime syndicates operating from Southeast Asia to Middle East and Africa, leaving victims worldwide. He stressed the importance of strong international cooperation in combating such crimes.

Investment and Phishing Scams Constitute Major Threats to U.S.

The FBI’s Internet Crime report (IC3) highlights investment scams as resulting in the most significant reported losses in the United States last year. At $4.57 billion, losses from these scams increased by 38% from 2022. Crypto-investment fraud incidents also marked an increase of 53% to $3.94 billion, predominantly targeting the 30-49 age demographic.

Phishing scams, however, attracted the highest number of complaints in 2023, with over 298,000 complaints comprising 34% of all reported grievances. The FBI San Francisco division received 364 complaints with losses nearing $1.5 million. Santa Clara County observed the highest number of complaints, with Alameda County observing the greatest losses, amounting to $500,000.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What was the objective of Operation First Light 2024?

The main objective of Operation First Light 2024, led by Interpol, was to disrupt online scam networks operating on a global scale. These networks perpetrated phishing, investment fraud, romance and impersonation scams, and ran fake online shopping sites. By disrupting these networks, large amounts of money were confiscated, which significantly impacted the transnational organized crime groups that pose a significant threat to global security.

What was the impact of Operation First Light 2024?

Operation First Light 2024 had far-reaching impacts. It resulted in the seizure of assets amounting to over $257 million and freezing more than 6,700 bank accounts linked to the online scams. Moreover, it led to the arrest of 3,950 suspects and identified 14,643 individuals as likely to be part of the online scam networks. Beyond these numbers, it contributed to preventing crimes, protecting lives and facilitating a healthier global economy.

What kinds of scams were being conducted by these online networks?

The online networks disrupted in Operation First Light 2024 were involved in a variety of scams. They carried out phishing scams tricking people to reveal sensitive data, romance scams that manipulate individuals’ emotions to defraud them, investment fraud inducing people to make risky investments and impersonation scams where they pretended to be someone else to commit fraud. They also operated sham online shopping sites selling non-existing products. These scams were global in nature, impacting people from diverse countries and backgrounds.