Thousands Arrested in Interpol-Led Operation Targeting Social Engineering Scammers

An international law enforcement operation led by Interpol that involved police forces in 76 countries has seen more than $50 million seized and thousands of people have been arrested in connection with social engineering scams such as telecommunication fraud, business email compromise scams, and the money laundering activities in relation to those operations.

The operation – called First Light 2022 – ran for two months between March 8 and May 2, 2022, and targeted organized criminal groups running telecommunication and other social engineering scams, including telephone deception, romance scams, and e-mail deception. Social engineering is the term given to the psychological manipulation of people to trick them into disclosing sensitive information, installing malware, or making fraudulent payments. These scams can be conducted via the telephone, in person, over the Internet, via email, or text messages.

According to Interpol, the operation saw more than 3,000 suspects identified and over 2,000 individuals were arrested in raids on 1,770 locations worldwide. In addition to seizing $50 million in proceeds from the illegal activity, around 4,000 bank accounts were frozen.

Social engineering is big business. Social engineering, which includes phishing, confidence fraud, romance scams, and business email compromise attacks, results in billions of losses every year. Almost $2.4 billion in losses to BEC attacks were reported to the FBI in 2021 along with more than $956 million in losses to confidence fraud and romance scams.

These scams do not just involve financial losses. There have been many cases where victims of these scams have taken their own lives as a result of financial losses, extortion, and threats to expose sensitive information. Scams are also conducted to lure people into fictitious well-paid jobs, but end up with individuals being trafficked and entrapped in forced labor, sexual slavery, or being held in captivity in casinos or on fishing vessels.

Europol offered examples of some of the criminal operations that were broken up. A Chinese national was arrested in Papua New Guinea in connection with a Ponzi scheme estimated to have defrauded almost 24,000 victims out of €34 million. Europol said eight suspects were arrested in Singapore in connection with Ponzi-like schemes, where they would offer high-paying marketing jobs via social media platforms and victims would only make small earnings and would be required to recruit more members to the scheme in order to earn commissions. The Singapore Police Force rescued a teenage scam victim who was tricked into pretending to be kidnapped, sending fake videos of himself with fake wounds to his parents, in an attempt to obtain a €1.5 million ransom payment.

“Telecom and BEC fraud are sources of serious concern for many countries and have a hugely damaging effect on economies, businesses and communities,” said Rory Corcoran, director of Interpol’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre (IFCACC). “The international nature of these crimes can only be addressed successfully by law enforcement working together beyond borders, which is why Interpol is critical to providing police the world over with a coordinated tactical response.”

Author: Richard Anderson

Richard Anderson is the Editor-in-Chief of