USD 257 million seized in global police crackdown against online scams

27 June 2024
Operation First Light highlights the extensive reach of scam syndicates

LYON, France – A global police operation spanning 61 countries has delivered a financial blow to online scam networks by freezing 6,745 bank accounts, seizing assets totaling USD 257 million, and disrupting the transnational organized crime networks involved.

Targeting phishing, investment fraud, fake online shopping sites, romance and impersonation scams, Operation First Light 2024 led to the arrest of 3,950 suspects and identified 14,643 other possible suspects in all continents.

Police collectively intercepted some USD 135 million in fiat currency and USD 2 million in cryptocurrency. Fiat currency, such as the US Dollar, Euro, or Yen, is official currency issued and regulated by governments.

Other assets worth over USD 120 million were seized, including real estate, high-end vehicles, expensive jewellery, and many other high-value items and collections.

Operation First Light 2024 led to the arrest of 3,950 suspects, such as here in the Philippines, and identified 14,643 other possible suspects in all continents.
Authorities in Hong Kong, China, arrested multiple suspects as part of a global effort to combat phishing, investment fraud, fake online shopping sites, romance, and impersonation scams.
In Brazil, the Federal Police seized a wide range of assets belonging to suspected scammers, including luxury brand products, expensive jewelry, laptops and phones as part of Operation First Light 2024.
Brazilian Federal Police seized many items of expensive jewellery, including these high value watches.
Almost 4,000 suspected scammers were arrested during Operation First Light, including this suspect apprehended in Brazil.
During Operation First Light, authorities seized assets thought to belong to suspected scammers, including this high-end vehicle in Brazil.
Data contained in the hand devices, computers and telephones seized during Operation First Light, such as here in Hong Kong, were handed over to the INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters for analysis.
Upon request, INTERPOL’s General Secretariat headquarters sent specialized officers into the field – such as here in Namibia - to support local police in coordinating their national leg of the global operation.
First Light operations are funded by China’s Ministry of Public Security, which hosted this year’s operational conclusion meeting in Tianjin.

Using INTERPOL’s Global Rapid Intervention of Payments (I-GRIP) mechanism to help them trace and intercept the illicit proceeds of crime, both in fiat and cryptocurrency, police intercepted USD 331,000 in a business email compromise fraud involving a Spanish victim who transferred money to Hong Kong, China.

Likewise in another case, authorities in Australia successfully recovered AUD 5.5 million (USD 3.7 million) on behalf of an impersonation scam victim, after the funds were fraudulently transferred to bank accounts in Malaysia and Hong Kong, China.

Director of INTERPOL's Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre (IFCACC), Dr Isaac Kehinde Oginni, said:

“The results of this global police operation are more than just numbers—they represent lives protected, crimes prevented, and a healthier global economy worldwide.

“By confiscating such large amounts of money, and disrupting the networks behind them, we not only safeguard our communities but also deal a significant blow to the transnational organized crime groups that pose such a serious threat to global security.”

On behalf of China’s Ministry of Public Security, Yong Wang, Head of the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Beijing, said:

"The world is grappling with the severe challenges of social engineering fraud, and organized crime groups are operating from Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Africa, with victims on every continent.

“No country is immune to this type of crime, and combating it requires very strong international cooperation.”

Notable achievements from the operation include the dismantling of a sophisticated international scam network in the Namibian capital. In this operation, 88 local youths, who were forced into conducting scams, were rescued. Authorities seized 163 computers and 350 mobile phones, and the data they contained handed over to INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters for analysis.

Similarly, coordination between Singapore Police Force’s Anti-Scam Centre, and Hong Kong, China, Police Force’s Anti-Deception Coordination Centre and local banks prevented an attempted tech support scam, saving a 70-year-old victim from losing SGD 380,000 (USD 281,200) worth of savings.

Joint investigations between Brazilian and Portuguese authorities disrupted several scam networks operating globally.

Operation First Light was strengthened by the participation of four regional policing bodies: AFRIPOL, ASEANAPOL, GCCPOL, and Europol.

First Light operations are funded by China’s Ministry of Public Security, which recently hosted the concluding meeting in Tianjin, bringing participating countries together under one roof to analyze results, share intelligence, and plan future operations.

Operation First Light 2024 commenced in 2023 and culminated in its final tactical phase from March to May 2024.

INTERPOL has been coordinating First Light operations since 2014 to bolster cooperation and intensify efforts by member countries in fighting social engineering and telecom fraud.