The 32 suspects, 29 men and three women aged 18 to 55, were arrested for money laundering and conspiracy to launder money in a two-day operation from last Thursday to Friday.

Among the arrests were two masterminds and several core members, some of whom were call center staff and senior triad society members.

Three syndicate-controlled call centers in Hung Hom, Tsuen Wan and Cheung Sha Wan were also crippled in the operation.

Commercial Crime Bureau chief inspector Or Wing-yan said the 520 victims were jobless individuals, drivers, housewives and professionals, aged between 20 and 81.

The "biggest victim" was a 27-year-old jobless woman, who lost up to HK$1.85 million.

Financial Intelligence and Investigation Bureau chief inspector Lai Wai-chun said the victims reported to the police between last year and last month, and in July police also received tip-offs that the syndicate had applied for the government's "100 percent personal loan guarantee scheme" with a virtual bank by providing false information.

The scheme, launched in April, claimed to provide financial support to unemployed individuals during the pandemic.

"The syndicate provided the same fake bank transaction records and income proofs in at least 35 applications for HK$2.8 million loans under the scheme," Lai said.

Throughout the scam, he said some suspects, posing as financial company or bank staff, cold-called the victims from the call centers.

"They promoted the government loan scheme and another non-existent fake low-interest loan scheme," he said. Victims then paid 10 percent of the loan scheme's value as a deposit.

The victims were then instructed to set up online accounts with the virtual bank to store the loans they borrowed, and provide their login details and personal information.

Lai said the suspects subsequently transferred loans from the victims' accounts to the syndicate's 12 local and mainland bank accounts, before disappearing.

Commercial Crime Bureau superintendent Yip Wing-lam said police had seized 142 mobile phones, multiple SIM cards, computers and forged documents from the call centers.