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Interpol arrests nearly 1,000 cyber criminals in months-long anti-fraud operation

Operation HAECHI-III sees the seizure of more than $130 million in virtual assets

A months-long operation led by Interpol, and supported by the UK and 29 other countries, to crack down on cyber crime has led to the arrest of 975 people.

The result of Operation HAECHI-III has resolved more than 1,600 cases and the seizure of $129,975,440 (£107 million) worth of virtual assets.

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In addition, almost 2,800 bank and virtual asset accounts linked to online financial crime were blocked. Interpol said that investigations during Operation HAECHI-III led to the publication of 95 Interpol notices and the detection of 156 new crime trends.

Interpol also provided some details on the breakdown of each operation and how much they contributed to the total £100m + virtual asset seizure.

Two criminals that each earned Interpol Red Notices - a worldwide arrest order - were tracked to and brought into custody in Greece and Italy respectively after embezzling €28 million (£24 million) from 2,000 Korean victims.

The pair were wanted by Korean authorities under suspicion of being involved in a global Ponzi scheme.

In another case, law enforcement agencies in Austria and India discovered a cyber criminal gang impersonating Interpol officers. These suspected criminals persuaded victims to transfer around $159,000 (£131,491) through financial institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges, and online gift cards. Indian authorities stormed the call centre, confiscating four cryptocurrency wallets and other crime evidence.

The operation saw the arrival of Interpol’s new Anti-Money Laundering Rapid Response Protocol (ARRP). The organisation’s new worldwide stop-payment mechanism aims to facilitate easier cross-border collaboration between European law enforcement agencies for the purposes of restraining criminal proceeds.

ARRP enabled police in Manchester and Dublin to jointly track and confiscate around €1.2 million (£1 million) lost to business email scams in Ireland. 

Since January, the protocol has also helped numerous countries recoup more than $120 million (£99 million) in illicit proceeds from cyber-enabled fraud, Interpol said.

Jürgen Stock, Interpol Secretary General, said that the success of this operation was based on two key elements for law enforcement, “follow the money and cooperation via Interpol”.

“We have highlighted the need for greater efforts to deprive criminals of their illegal gains and this operation has seen member countries doing just that,” he added.

Operation HAECHI-III is the third in a series of operations designed to crack down on cyber criminals. In May 2021, Interpol’s operation HAECHI-I brought together more than 40 specialised law enforcement officers across the Asia Pacific region to intercept a total of $83 million (£68 million) in illicit funds transferred from victims to the perpetrators of cyber-enabled financial crime.

In September 2021, Ireland’s Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau “seized several domains” used in the ransomware attack on the Irish Health Service Executive earlier that year and worked with Interpol to ensure that other states are aware of the systems targeted by Conti ransomware.

In November of the same year, HAECHI-II saw police arrest more than 1,000 individuals and intercept a total of nearly $27 million (£22 million) in illicit funds from cyber criminals, targeting specific types of online fraud, such as romance scams, investment fraud and money laundering associated with illegal online gambling.

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