3,500 arrests, $300 million seized in major bust of romance scams, sextortion, investment fraud

 December 31, 2023

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

INTERPOL, the international police organization, has announced the seizure of $300 million in assets and the arrests of about 3,500 suspects as the result of a months-long investigation into voice phishing, romance scams, online sextortion, investment fraud, money laundering, and business email and e-commerce fraud.

The organization, based in France, explained its investigators found trails of criminal activity across 34 nations.

The investigation, called HAECHI IV, ran from July 2023 through December and focused on online fraud. Authorities then froze various associated bank and virtual asset accounts through its "Global Rapid Intervention of Payments" scheme, a "stop-payment mechanism which helps countries work together to block criminal proceeds."

One part saw the arrest in the Philippines of "a high-profile online gambling criminal" who had been targeted in a two-year manhunt by Korea's national police agency.

Authorities blocked a total of 82,112 suspicious bank accounts and seized $199 million in currency and another $101 million in "virtual assets," the organization reported.

"The seizure of $300 million represents a staggering sum and clearly illustrates the incentive behind today’s explosive growth of transnational organized 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." explained INTERPOL spokesman Stephen Kavanagh.

"HAECHI IV’s 200% surge in arrests shows the persistent challenge of cyber-enabled crime, reminding us to stay alert and keep refining our tactics against online fraud, which is why INTERPOL operations like this are so important."

The report said investment fraud, business email compromise, and e-commerce fraud accounted for 75% of cases investigated in HAECHI IV. Also dismantled was a large illegal gambling network.

Among the seized items were multiple NFTs, which are digital assets that can be in the form of photographs, videos, audio files, artwork, comic books, sports collectibles, and more.

The report noted police in various nations continue to investigate, freezing assets and more.

An INTERPOL official in Korea, Kim Dong Kwon, explained, "It is remarkable that global efforts to stay ahead of the latest criminal trends have resulted in a substantial growth in operational outcomes.

"Despite criminals' endeavors to gain illicit advantages through contemporary trends, they will eventually be apprehended and face due punishment. To accomplish this, Project HAECHI will consistently evolve and expand its scope."

Several special alerts warning various police forces of the threat of fraud came out during the course of the investigation.

One warned of a new scam detected in Korea involving the sale of Non-Fungible Tokens with promises of huge returns, which 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 report said.

The second warned about the use of AI and deep fake technology to lend credibility to scams by enabling criminals to hide their identities and to pretend to be family members, friends, or love interests.

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