Six-month Interpol operation yields $300 million


South Africa was one of 34 countries involved in a six-month long Interpol financial crime operation that saw over three thousand arrests and confiscation of $300 million.

Operation Haechi IV targeted voice phishing, romance scams, online sextortion, investment fraud, money laundering associated with illegal online gambling, business email compromise fraud and e-commerce fraud.

Investigators collaborated to detect online fraud and freeze associated bank and virtual asset service provider (VASP) accounts using Interpol’s Global Rapid Intervention of Payments (I-GRIP), a stop-payment mechanism which helps countries to co-operate in blocking criminal proceeds.

Working with VASPs, Interpol helped frontline officers identify 367 virtual asset accounts linked to transnational organised crime.  Police in member countries froze the assets and investigations are ongoing.

Co-operation between Filipino and Korean authorities led to the arrest in Manila of a high profile online gambling criminal after a two-year manhunt by Korea’s National Police Agency.

Authorities blocked 82 112 suspicious bank accounts, seizing a combined $199 million in hard currency and $101 million in virtual assets.

Speaking when the six-month operation finished, Stephen Kavanagh, Interpol Executive Director of Police Services, said: “Seizure of $300 million is a staggering sum and clearly illustrates the incentive behind the explosive growth of transnational organised crime. This represents the savings and hard-earned cash of victims. This vast accumulation of unlawful wealth is a serious threat to global security and weakens the economic stability of nations worldwide”.

“Haechi IV’s arrests show the persistent challenge of cyber-enabled crime, reminding us to stay alert and keep refining tactics against online fraud.”

Investment fraud, business email compromise and e-commerce fraud accounted for 75% of cases investigated during Haechi IV.

Two purple notices were published during Operation Haechi IV warning countries about emerging digital investment fraud practices. The notices provide information on modus operandi, procedures, objects, devices or hiding places used by criminals.

One alerted Interpol member countries to a new scam detected in Korea involving the sale of non-fungible tokens with promises of huge returns. It turned out to be a “rug pull”, a growing scam in the crypto industry where developers abruptly abandon a project and investors lose their money.

The second purple notice warned about the use of AI (artificial intelligence) and deep fake technology to lend credibility to scams by enabling criminals to hide their identities and to pretend to be family member, friends or love interests.

The United Kingdom leg of the operation reported cases where AI-generated synthetic content was used to deceive, defraud, harass, and extort victims, particularly through impersonation scams, online sexual blackmail, and investment fraud. Cases also involved impersonation of people known to victims through voice cloning technology.

Countries involved in Haechi IV were  Argentina, Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Cayman Islands, Ghana, Hong Kong (China), India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Korea, Romania, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom (UK), United States (US) and Vietnam.