Dubai Police arrest gang accused of using AI to steal $36m

The force arrests 43 suspected members of an international syndicate in the emirate

Dubai Police issued images of suspects arrested in connection with a $36 million hacking plot. Photo: Dubai Police
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Police in Dubai have arrested 43 people believed to be involved in an international syndicate that used AI-powered deepfake technology to steal $36 million (Dh131.4 million) from two Asian companies.

The gang allegedly targeted major corporations by hacking emails between company directors and branch managers and convinced staff to carry out large fund transfers to their bank accounts based in Dubai.

Police said the 43 suspects are of various nationalities.

A statement from the force on Thursday said: “Dubai Police have identified the ringleader who currently resides outside the UAE, along with 20 additional suspects, for whom red [arrest] warrants have been issued."

The operation and subsequent arrests were executed through close collaboration with international counterparts, including in France, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Under Operation Monopoly, Dubai Police launched an investigation after a lawyer representing an East Asian company reported to the force's e-crime platform it had been victim of a multimillion-dollar fraud.

Police said the inquiry revealed the gang had managed to hack into the company's email accounts to intercept communication between the chief executive and the company's branches.

Using AI-powered deepfake technology, police said the gang impersonated the company directors and replicated their voices to instruct branch managers to transfer $19 million to a Dubai-based account for a confidential acquisition deal in the emirate.

The alleged scam was further supported by official emails sent by the suspected fraudsters to the branches.

Dubai Police's cybercrime and money-laundering units quickly tracked the transfer, tracing it to a person who had opened the bank account in 2018 and subsequently left the UAE.

“Employing a sophisticated money-shifting technique, the criminals moved the stolen funds between multiple accounts before withdrawing and funnelling them into specialised money-holding and transfer companies," the force said.

"While some of the suspects left the country, others remained behind to continue their withdrawal and redeposit activities."

During the course of monitoring the gang's members, investigators uncovered a second fraudulent operation targeting a different company outside the UAE, where the syndicate stole $17 million using the same deceptive methods.

“Such criminal behaviour is often employed by money-laundering gangs to obfuscate the source of funds,” the force said.

Dubai Police arrested the suspects and seized luxury cars and expensive artworks.

"The gang meticulously studied their victims, closely monitoring their cyber activities and consistently targeting company heads and influential businessmen," Dubai Police said.

Dubai Police said they managed to recover the funds, which have now been returned.

Updated: November 09, 2023, 3:09 PM