China ringing up wins against telecom fraud

2024-01-05 10:07:02China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Telecom swindlers are detained in a joint operation by China and Myanmar law enforcement officers. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Cross-border cooperation and prevention keys to tackling emerging crimes. Yang Zekun reports.

Yang Jing, a 35-year-old teacher from Nanchong, Sichuan province, still doesn't understand why she was naive enough to be tricked out of 2.15 million yuan ($301,000) in just one month by an online fraudster.

Yang, who asked for her real name not to be used, is a divorced single mother bringing up a kindergarten-aged child on her own. In 2021, she registered an account on a dating website. A stranger added her on WeChat in April of that year using the phone number she provided to the dating service.

After communicating on the messaging app for a week, she learned that the other person was also divorced and looking for a partner. Her would-be suitor gave her false information about himself and bombarded her with convincing sweet talk. She came to believe he was a successful executive in the financial sector as well as a kind and affectionate person.

The scam artist persuaded Yang to invest money in an investment platform he claimed was run by his company, telling her they were "fighting for a bright future" together. Yang accepted the investment advice and transferred her money to a platform the fraudster provided. In the early stages, Yang's account appeared to be delivering good returns, so she kept making investments at the swindler's request.

"I doubted him once during the continuous requests for investments. He reacted very angrily, saying I didn't trust him and wasn't genuinely developing a relationship with him. This made me feel very guilty and made me believe more in his sincerity toward me," she said.

In May 2021, Yang invested all the money she had from selling her house, borrowing from friends and relatives and taking out online loans. However, when she tried to borrow money from a friend a second time, her friend advised her that she might be being deceived. It was then that Yang began to doubt the person she had entrusted with all her money.

Encouraged by her friend, she reported her case to the police, who investigated the situation and discovered her suitor was indeed a fraudster. The man is still at large, and to date local judicial authorities have helped Yang recover more than 100,000 yuan. Yang is one of many victims of online and telecom fraud.

The love scam she experienced is one of the common confidence tricks of online fraudsters. There are 10 types of high-incidence telecom fraud, which account for nearly 80 percent of reported cases, according to the Ministry of Public Security. They include impersonating e-commerce logistics customer service officers, public security and judicial authorities, leaders and acquaintances, and pretending to offer advice on online investments and financial management.

Fighting back

Since the beginning of 2023, numerous articles, news items and posts regarding telecom fraud have been all the buzz on social media. One of the most extreme cases involved a doctoral student being deceived into heading to northern Myanmar, one of the main bases for online fraudsters who target Chinese citizens. Other Chinese have told of the inhumane treatment they were subjected to when held captive and forced to work for fraud gangs in Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries.

The hit summer film No More Bets, which focuses on telecom fraud, made public awareness about typical scams more widespread.

Facing growing public concern about the issue and the complications involved, multiple Chinese government departments boosted cooperation this year to strengthen the fight against telecommunications fraud and the rectification of related industries.

Major hurdles to overcome included addressing the problems of cross-border crimes in cooperation with other nations, and being aware of not infringing on citizens' personal information and rights.

Despite the challenges, significant progress in the fight was achieved last year, effectively curbing the high incidence of such crimes.

At the end of November last year, a total of 31,000 telecom fraud suspects had been transferred to China from northern Myanmar. The suspects include 63 key gang members and 1,531 individuals wanted for online crimes, the Ministry of Public Security said.

Hundreds of suspects were also handed over to Chinese police by law enforcement agencies in the Philippines, Indonesia and Laos, leading to the resolution of numerous fraud cases.

Myanmar's Ministry of Home Affairs and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a written response to China Daily that based on their observations, online fraudsters target affluent individuals in China, the United States, and European and Southeast Asian countries, through various methods such as phishing, fake phone calls and e-commerce scams. Fraud gangs usually set up operations in cities located in border areas, and guard their buildings with high walls and armed security guards. A common strategy is to recruit individuals from the country of the targeted victims to conduct the online scams. Sometimes people from countries neighboring the targets are also recruited, the reply said.

The gangs prize recruits with technical and language expertise and entice them with lucrative salaries, the reply said. However, the recruits are pressured to meet daily quotas, and failure to do so can lead to confinement, torture, and mental and physical harm. Those who do not comply with the gangs' demands or are held in suspicion may be sold or transferred to other scam operators.

According to Myanmar authorities, it is difficult to identify and arrest suspects as most of the fraud operations are not legally registered and have no credible company information. Fraudsters often buy bank and mobile accounts under the name of poor and uneducated people to commit their crimes, they added.

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By Yang Zekun | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-05 09:23




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Suspects involved in online and telecom fraud activities are escorted from Myanmar to China in September. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Joint efforts

During a nationwide teleconference on combating illegal activities using telecom networks held on May 30, authorities outlined measures being taken to strengthen specialized efforts and collaboration to tackle such crimes. The conference also heard that more targeted policies and a proper legal framework were needed to support the crackdown.

The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Central Committee has incorporated work to combat and manage telecom-related crime into the assessment system for local governments.

In August, the public security departments of China, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos met in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and launched a special operation targeting fraud, gambling and related crimes in the region, such as human trafficking, kidnapping and illegal detention. They pledged to undertake proactive operations to reverse the high incidence of such crimes.

Wang Xiaowei, an associate professor at the school of investigation of the People's Public Security University of China, said international cooperation was needed to effectively combat the rapid development of new types of cybercrimes including telecom fraud and online gambling.

With the emergence of transnational and cross-regional characteristics in these crimes, international collaboration has become even more crucial. Also, dealing with locations where criminal activities are suspected to be happening requires the support of local law enforcement, and an understanding of their capabilities and how effective joint actions will be.

International law enforcement cooperation faces challenges due to different legal systems in different jurisdictions, Wang added. Issues include extradition, transfer of evidence, repatriation of suspects, and the recovery and seizure of funds involved in the fraud cases.

In September, the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security jointly supervised the investigation of a number of telecom fraud cases aiming to uncover the organizers, leaders and hidden masterminds of the gangs.

In response to the widespread telecom fraud operations in northern Myanmar affecting China, the Ministry of Public Security directed public security departments in neighboring Yunnan province and other regions to enhance cooperation with Myanmar on border policing, and have carried out several crackdowns since September.

In November last year, China issued arrest warrants for four leaders of a family-led gang operating in Myanmar headed by Ming Xuechang. In a coordinated effort with Myanmar authorities, three suspects were apprehended while Ming killed himself before his arrest.

Law enforcement authorities in cities including Baoshan, Yunnan, Xinyu, Jiangxi province, Wuhu, Anhui province, and Longyan, Fujian province, have issued notices urging individuals living illegally abroad, especially in northern Myanmar, to return home within a set time limit to seek leniency in their cases.

Coordinated efforts

Wang Zhizhong, vice-minister of Public Security, said that considering the challenging circumstances, the ministry has coordinated well with law enforcement agencies nationwide to obtain an accurate understanding of the characteristics and patterns of telecom fraud.

"Specialist teams have been established to research and resolve telecom fraud-related issues to form both internal and external synergies, while multiple measures for the prevention and cracking down on such crimes have been strengthened," he said.

Wang added that they have prioritized early-stage prevention and deployed various preventive measures to minimize the occurrence of such cases.

The ministry has guided law enforcement agencies at all levels to establish a system to warn and dissuade offenders, with millions of warning notices issued to various regions, Wang said. The Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology have jointly set up the 12381 anti-fraud warning and dissuasion SMS system.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has also enhanced industry monitoring, early warning, and its capabilities to handle fraud-related information.

Meanwhile, the Cyberspace Administration of China is blocking overseas fraud-related websites and IP addresses, while the People's Bank of China is monitoring and controlling funds suspected of being obtained from fraud cases.

Since the law on anti-online fraud took effect on Dec 1, 2022, police nationwide have imposed administrative punishments on over 210,000 individuals. They have also detained about 78,000 suspects involved in criminal activities such as money laundering and involvement with overseas fraud groups, the Ministry of Public Security said.

In addition, police and relevant departments have stopped 13.89 million people from being duped, and intercepted 2.75 billion fraudulent phone calls and 2.28 billion suspicious short messages. They have also terminated about 6 million domain names and websites involved in fraud cases and intercepted the transfer of 328.8 billion yuan involved in these cases, according to the ministry.

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