Police arrest thousands in global crackdown on social engineering

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Police arrest thousands in global crackdown on social engineering
Portuguese police display seized evidence.

China-financed First Light 2022 operation against organised crime.

Thousands have been arrested and millions of dollars siezed, in the culmination of a massive two-month long international police operation against organised crime groups behind telecommunications and social engineering scams.

Operation First Light 2022 targeted call centres suspected of deceptive and fraudulent calls, business email compromise (BEC), romance scams, and social engineering between March 8 and May 8 this year.

Police forces around the world collaborated with each other during the operation.

The Singapore Police Force rescued a teenage scam victim who had been duped into pretending to be kidnapped and sending videos of himself with fake wounds to his parents, along with a A$2.24 million ransom demand.

Eight suspects were also arrested in Singapore in connection to Ponzi-like job scams, that offered high-paying jobs via social media and instant messaging systems, asking victims to initally make small earnings and then be required to recruit more members to earn commissions.

Papua New Guinea police arrested a wanted Chinese national whose pyramid scheme defrauded almost 24,000 victims out of A$35.8 million.

The alleged scammer was extradited to China via Singapore.

China's Ministry of Public Security financed the this year's annual First Light operation, which was first launched in 2014.

Portugal's Policia Judiciária seized a large amount of counterfeited official documents as part of Operation First Light 2022.

Interpol said that 76 countries took part in operation First Light 2022, with preliminary figures showing that 1770 locations worldwide were raided and around 2000 operators, fraudsters and money launderers arrested.

Some US$50 million (A$71.3 million) in crime proceeds has been intercepted so far, and 4000 bank accounts frozen, Interpol said.

Interpol itself has been used by criminals pretending to be police agents, who would try to extort money out of individuals who were said to be under investigation, the bureau said.

Social media drives human trafficking and entraps people in forced labour, sexual slavery, captivity in casinos and fishing boats, Interpol said.

A growing number of "money mule herders" are laundering money through victims' personal bank accounts, with "vishing" fraud, in which criminals pretend to be financial institution officials to obtain login credentials, also on the increase.

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