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Police in Chongqing bust online fraudsters

By TAN YINGZI in Chongqing | China Daily | Updated: 2022-03-24 09:23
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With China strengthening efforts to combat telecom and online fraud in recent years, Chongqing police cracked down on a large transnational criminal group involved in around 470 cases involving funds amounting to some 350 million yuan ($54.91 million) last month.

Under the guidance of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau Criminal Investigation Corps, officers from the Banan district public security sub-bureau have visited 12 provinces and cities around the country in pursuit of the group, arresting 168 suspects and freezing 63 million yuan in assets related to fraudulent activities since June.

"This case involved a large sum of money, many suspects and activities in several foreign countries, including the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, Cambodia and Myanmar," said Tu Ruquan, director of the Banan anti-fraud center, who led the operation. "It is still under investigation, and we are trying to recover as much of the money lost by victims as possible."

In the past few years, many Chinese people have fallen victim to a variety of online fraud. A China Internet Network Information Center report showed that by the end of June, 17.2 percent of netizens had been defrauded.

Data from the Supreme People's Court, the country's top court, revealed that the sums involved amounted to 35.4 billion yuan last year alone.

In mid-June, Banan police received a crime lead from the Ministry of Public Security. A preliminary investigation found that the crimes were the work of a telecom fraud gang based in Southeast Asia, which had rented offices and equipment in the Philippines, Cambodia and elsewhere, through fake online investment platforms.

The police introduced a case about a housewife referred to as "Mrs Lin", who had made some small investments in the stock market. One day in April last year, Lin received a call from a stranger who claimed to be a stock expert, asking her to join an online WeChat group for free lessons. She agreed.

The group had about 150 members and gave two live lectures a day on investment tips, stock recommendations and even the exact time to sell and buy shares. In a matter of days, Lin made about 7,000 yuan, and other members also said they had made money. She began to trust one of the so-called stock experts.

In late April, the expert gathered together more than 8,000 people from various WeChat groups to invest in cryptocurrency, including Lin and her two sisters. They downloaded an app as instructed by the so-called expert and for the first 10 days, the trio made money and were also able to withdraw their earnings. They then invested a sum of around 1 million yuan.

On May 8, they found they were no longer able to log onto the app. Then, they discovered they had been removed from the WeChat group and that all its so-called stock experts had also disappeared. "Only one or two people in the WeChat group were real investors, the rest were actually the swindlers," Tu said.

As the victims had each been scammed out of a large sum of money, Chongqing police decided to set up a task force under the supervision by the Ministry of Public Security.

To escape from Chinese police, most fraudsters relocate to other parts of Asia, the Middle East, Europe and even Africa, Tu said.

"Their overseas operations make things extremely difficult for us, especially during the pandemic," he said, adding that despite this, they had managed to arrest 168 people suspected of committing fraud overseas on their return to China.

A nationwide campaign against online scamming has effectively curbed rising telecom fraud, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

"The most important thing is to raise public awareness of fraud, and that there is no such thing as a free lunch," Tu said.

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