Rapid Money Laundering Response Helps Intercept $27m

International law enforcers have arrested over 1,000 suspects and seized nearly $27m in criminal funds associated with online fraud and money laundering, according to Interpol.

The global policing organization said its Haechi-II operation took place over four months from June to September 2021, bringing together investigators from 20 countries plus Hong Kong and Macao.

The crackdown allowed police to close 1660 cases and block 2350 bank accounts linked to illegal activity, according to Interpol. That was done in many cases via a new global mechanism piloted during the campaign, known as the Anti-Money Laundering Rapid Response Protocol (ARRP).

In one case, ARRP reportedly led to the rapid interception of $8m headed to Chinese bank accounts after a Colombian textiles firm was defrauded in a sophisticated business email compromise (BEC) scam.

According to Interpol, 94% of the money was blocked in record time, saving the firm from bankruptcy.

“Intercepting the illicit proceeds of online financial crimes before they disappear into the pockets of money mules is a race against time and we have worked closely with the attorney general’s office to move as decisively as possible,” said Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, director general of the Colombian National Police.

The operation also targeted criminals engaged in romance scams, investment fraud and other types of online fraud, revealing ten new criminal modus operandi to investigators.

In one case, police in Colombia requested a Purple Notice — an intra-police information sharing system — after coming across mobile malware disguised as popular Netflix show “Squid Game.” The malicious code was designed to harvest financial information and subscribe to premium services without the user’s knowledge.

“Online scams like those leveraging malicious apps evolve as quickly as the cultural trends they opportunistically exploit,” said José De Gracia, assistant director of criminal networks at Interpol.

“Sharing information on emerging threats is vital to the ability of police to protect the victims of online financial crime. It also lets police know that no country is alone in this fight. Operation Haechi-II shows that we can successfully strike back against this threat when we act together.”

The campaign is part of a three-year Interpol initiative to crack down on financial crime, sponsored by South Korea. It follows the Haechi-I operation, which led to the arrest of 585, the closure of over 1600 bank accounts and the seizure of $83m in funds headed to suspected criminals.  

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