July 24, 2024

A worldwide police operation that incorporated 61 nations successfully dealt a substantial financial blow to online scam networks. The operation resulted in the freezing of 6,745 bank accounts, the seizure of assets amounting to USD 257 million, and the disturbance of the interconnected organized crime networks involved in these scams.

Operation First Light 2024 was directed at a variety of scams, including phishing, investment fraud, phony online shopping websites, and impersonation hoaxes. It resulted in the arrest of 3,950 suspects and the identification of 14,643 potential culprits across all continents.

Police managed to intercept approximately USD 135 million in fiat currency and USD 2 million in cryptocurrency during the operation. Fiat currency is an officially recognized currency that’s issued and regulated by national governments such as the US Dollar, Euro, or Yen.

The seizure also included assets worth over USD 120 million like real estates, high-end vehicles, expensive jewels, and numerous other high-value items and collections.

INTERPOL’s Global Rapid Intervention of Payments (I-GRIP) mechanism was used to track and intercept illicit profits from criminal activities, both in fiat and cryptocurrency. This resulted in the interception of USD 331,000 in a case of business email compromise fraud involving a victim in Spain who transferred the money to Hong Kong, China.

Another case saw authorities in Australia successfully recover AUD 5.5 million (USD 3.7 million) that was fraudulently transferred to bank accounts in Malaysia and Hong Kong, China intended for an impersonation scam victim.

According to Dr Isaac Kehinde Oginni, Director of INTERPOL’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre (IFCACC), this global operation was not just numerical accomplishments but more about safeguarding lives, crime prevention and promotion of a healthier global economy.

He elaborated that confiscating such large sums of money and disrupting the networks behind them doesn’t not only safeguard our communities, but it also delivers a severe blow to the transnational organized crime groups that pose a significant threat to global security.

Yong Wang, Head of the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Beijing, representing China’s Ministry of Public Security, stated that the severe challenges of social engineering fraud requires robust international cooperation. He further explained that no country is immune to this type of crime, as organized crime groups operate from Southeast Asia to the Middle East, Africa and beyond, with victims present on all continents.

One of the remarkable outcomes of the operation was the dismantling of a complex international scam network in the capital of Namibia. This operation resulted in the rescue of 88 local youths forcefully involved in conducting scams. Authorities confiscated 163 computers and 350 mobile phones, with the data within handed over to INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters for analysis.

Other successes include saving a 70-year-old victim from losing SGD 380,000 (USD 281,200) to a tech support scam, and the disruption of numerous global scam networks by the combined efforts of Brazilian and Portuguese authorities.

The operation was strengthened by the involvement of four regional policing bodies: AFRIPOL, ASEANAPOL, GCCPOL, and Europol.

Subsequent First Light operations were financed by China’s Ministry of Public Security. They also hosted the concluding meeting in Tianjin, where participant countries gathered to analyze the results, exchange intelligence and plan for future missions.

As an ongoing initiative, Operation First Light 2024 began in 2023 and ended in its final tactical stage from March to May 2024.

INTERPOL has been coordinating First Light operations since 2014, intensifying efforts in collaboration with member countries to battle against social engineering and telecom fraud.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the overall impact of Operation First Light 2024?

Operation First Light 2024 intercepted over USD 137 million in currencies and froze 6745 bank accounts. This operation involved 61 countries and resulted in the arrest of 3,950 individuals. The crackdown dealt a significant financial blow to global scam networks while also disrupting organized criminal networks.

What methods were used for financial interception in this operation?

INTERPOL’s Global Rapid Intervention of Payments (I-GRIP) mechanism was put to use to track and intercept illicit proceeds of the crime, both involving fiat and cryptocurrencies. This led to a substantial interception of funds tied to fraudulent activities across the globe.

What types of scams were targeted in this operation?

Operation First Light 2024 targeted a range of scams. These included phishing, investment fraud, fake online shopping sites, romance and impersonation scams. These operations were carried across all continents leading to thousands of arrests and identification of potential suspects.