About 2,000 individuals have been detained and $50 million has been collected by law enforcement agencies worldwide as part of a massive effort to stop social engineering and other scams from being used on victims. 76 nations participated in the two-month Operation, code-named First Light 2022, which witnessed a worldwide crackdown on organized criminal groups responsible for telecommunications and social engineering schemes.

Police in the participating nations searched national call centers for evidence of telecom or scam fraud, notably phone fraud, romance fraud, email fraud, and related financial crime. Using information shared over the course of the investigation, the Singapore Police Force was able to apprehend a juvenile scam victim who had been duped into posing as a kidnapper, sending videos of himself to his parents with phony injuries, and demanding a EUR 1.5 million as  ransom. After being apprehended in Papua New Guinea, a Chinese national wanted in connection with a Ponzi scheme that is thought to have scammed close to 24,000 people to the tune of around EUR 34 million, returned to China through Singapore.

Eight people connected to a Ponzi-style employment frauds were detained by the Singapore Police Force as part of Operation First Light 2022. Through social media and messaging platforms, scammers would advertise very lucrative online marketing positions where victims would first earn meager wages before being asked to acquire new members in order to earn commissions.

Interpol said in a news release that officer’s from every continent took part in coordinated tactical operations that included:

  • By the help of the intelligence and sources 1,770 establishments were stormed and raided globally
  • Approximately 3,000 individuals have been identified and around 2,000 operators, scammers, and money launderers have been lawfully detained
  • 4,000 bank accounts have been suspended and are under heavy scrutiny
  • Unlawful amount of $50 million was seized

INTERPOL purple alerts describing the following new trends that were discovered during operations were distributed to member nations:

  • the way social media platforms encourage human trafficking, ensnaring individuals in forced labor, sexual enslavement, or confinement in casinos or on fishing fleets; the way money mule herders use victims’ own bank accounts to launder money;
  • a rise in cybercriminals acting as INTERPOL officers to steal money from victims believing they are under investigation; an increase in vishing fraud when crooks pose as bank officials to lure victims into revealing internet log-in data.

Prior to tactical operations, nations shared intelligence via INTERPOL’s secure global police communications network I-24/7, providing information on suspects, suspicious bank accounts, illegal transactions, and communication means like phone numbers, email addresses, phony websites, and IP addresses to INTERPOL’s Financial Crimes Analysis File.

First Light 2022 was a yearly event that began in 2014 and was funded by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. First Light operations were first conducted in Southeast Asia, but in 2022, law enforcement will coordinate First Light on a worldwide scale for the second time, with tactical actions occurring on every continent.

According to Duan Daqi, head of the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Beijing, “the transnational and digital nature of various types of telecom and social engineering fraud continues to present grave challenges for local police authorities, because perpetrators operate from a different country or even continent than their victims and keep updating their fraud schemes.” “To solve this issue, Interpol offers a special platform for police collaboration. Even if Operation Firstlight 2022 is over, we shall all work together to police the law as long as crimes happen.


Author – Mr. Shrey Madaan, Research Associate, CyberPeace Foundation

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