Interpol Seizes $50M, Arrests Thousands In Major Social Engineering Scam Crackdown

interpol seizes 50m arrests thousands social engineering crackdown news
Popular portrayals of hackers tend to show them as computer geniuses who use their elite technical skills to breach computer systems. However, in real life, bad actors often don’t bother to directly hack computer systems when they can access those same systems by hacking people instead. People are often willing to give others the benefit of the doubt or even trust them despite knowing almost nothing about them. While this kind of blind trust can make for increased social cohesion within a community, cybercriminals are happy to take advantage of this trust by way of social engineering.

Social engineering is the practice of using psychological manipulation to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing confidential or personal information or performing actions, such as transferring funds into an account owned by the perpetrator. Many people are familiar with the Nigerian prince email scam, but scams in the internet age have become much more sophisticated over time. Rather than pretending to be strangers in need of help, scammers often impersonate legitimate, trusted authorities and organizations, and doing so is now easier than ever, thanks to cybercriminals who sell access to scam bots that do most of the work.

No one is immune to social engineering scams, not even the US Department of Defense, which was recently scammed out of $23.5 million before realizing that something was up. Social engineering scams are a scourge all across the globe, and law enforcement agencies in different countries decided to team up earlier this year and crackdown on the perpetrators. The International Criminal Police Organization, also known as Interpol, published details this week of a massive operation spanning 76 countries that went after social engineering scammers.

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Computers and counterfeit documents seized by the Portuguese Police (source: Interpol)

The operation was codenamed First Light 2022 and took place between March 8 and May 8 of this year. The operation relied on shared intelligence, including data on suspects, suspicious bank accounts, unlawful transactions, telephone numbers, email addresses, fraudulent websites, and IP addresses. Participating law enforcement authorities went after scammers conducting phone, email, and romance scams, as well as other kinds of scams and connected financial crime.

Interpol highlighted two particular results of the operation. The Singapore Police Force successfully rescued a teenager who was tricked into pretending to be kidnapped and sending video of himself with fake wounds to his parents as part of an elaborate scam that sought $1.6 million in ransom money from his parents. Operation First Light 2022 also included the arrest of a Chinese national in Papua New Guinea who was wanted for participating in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded almost 24,000 victims out of an estimated $36 million.

According to the press release, Interpol is still tallying the full results of the operation, but preliminary numbers are as follows.
  • 1,770 locations raided worldwide
  • 3,000 suspects identified
  • 2,000 operators, fraudsters, and money launderers arrested
  • 4,000 bank accounts frozen
  • $50 million worth of illicit funds intercepted