LYON, France – More than 1,500 people have been arrested in an INTERPOL-coordinated operation targeting multi-million euro telephone and e-mail scams across Asia.
Operation First Light 2016 saw police across the region conduct raids of suspicious call centres, with the largest in the Philippines where police arrested some 1,300 Chinese nationals working in a single location as part of a massive criminal operation.
The suspects were engaged in a range of criminal activities from the same building, including telephone scams aimed at victims in China, money laundering and illegal online gambling.
Based on intelligence exchanged in the framework of the operation, in December police in Spain arrested more than 200 Chinese nationals and shut down 13 call centres in Madrid, Barcelona and Alicante which scammed thousands of victims out of some EUR 16 million.
In this case, the suspects posed as law enforcement or justice officials, telling the victims in China that their bank accounts had been targeted by criminals and directing them to transfer a sum of money into a designated bank account in order to track the criminals.
The two-month operation targeted a variety of social engineering fraud scams – including telephone deception, romance scams and e-mail deception – and related financial crimes.
‘Social engineering fraud’ refers to scams which manipulate or trick people into giving out confidential or personal information which can then be used for financial gain by the criminals involved.
“By sharing information through INTERPOL, police can overcome the challenges in investigating international telephone fraud, such as criminals frequently changing locations or IP addresses, and build working relationships to prevent similar criminal activity in the future,” said Makoto Tanase, Coordinator of INTERPOL’s Financial Crimes unit.
INTERPOL’s Financial Crimes unit, in conjunction with the Liaison Office in Bangkok, facilitated the exchange of information and coordinated the joint police action during the operation, which took place between 1 October and 30 November.
Korean, Thai and Indian nationals were also among those arrested, with additional countries in Europe and the Americas contributing intelligence or providing investigative support. In addition to social engineering fraud, the suspects also face charges of payment card fraud and related financial crimes.
Countries participating in Operation First Light 2016 included: Austria, China, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste and the United States.