The International Criminal Police Organization has announced that it has arrested a total of over 20,000 people in an Interpol-coordinated blow against online and telephone fraudsters since September 2019.

The international organization said 35 countries participated in the operation dubbed “First Light” and this led to 21,549 arrests in more than 10,000 raids, as well as the seizure of almost $154 million of “illicit funds”.

Following an “enforcement phase” in September-November last year, the investigation saw Interpol issue three so-called “Purple Notices” detailing techniques and equipment used in “telephone scams, investment fraud and fraud schemes taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

While some of the crimes laid at suspects’ feet included a “social engineering” element, where victims are manipulated into giving up personal information like passwords or bank details, the probe “underscored the transnational nature of many telephone and online scams, where perpetrators often operate from a different country or even continent than their victims.”

The organisation said in a statement;

“The first time law enforcement has cooperated with Interpol on a global scale to combat telecoms fraud, with operations taking place on every continent.”

There were instances of “business e-mail compromise, romance scams and ‘smishing’,” where SMS text messages are used to try and convince targets to hand over valuable details in a variant of more typical email “phishing” attacks, and it was gathered that such scams have proliferated during the Coronavirus pandemic.