The borderless Internet holds a fatal attraction for teenagers and children, said a report yesterday in a local Chinese-language newspaper, citing a case recently cracked by police in which a a group of gangsters, the Bears, had already enlisted 300 gang members through the Internet.
The report said evidence collected by the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB, 刑事警察局) showed that the Bamboo Gang has five Internet portals.
According to the report, reaching a leading position in a gang in the past entailed having seniority and accumulated merits, but the rise of the Internet has fundamentally reshaped the traditional gang environment.
The alleged leader of the branch, 30-year-old Lee Chun-chie (李俊傑), was said to be little known both in the criminal world and to the police, and the only reason that he was able to advance so quickly was his knowledge of how to utilize the Internet.
Police investigations showed that the Bears had four Web sites which were used by members to arrange regular birthday get-togethers and KTV visits to increase loyalty. Anyone who wanted to advance had to bring in new members and upload their pictures on the Web sites.
Police have downloaded pictures of five junior high school students taken in a toilet at their school and with the words, "These are our new members" written next to them on the wall.
The report said that gangs now use the Internet to recruit members, and Internet telephony, which cannot be bugged by the police, is replacing the use of mobile phones.
Gangs will sometimes also release false information on the Internet to see if the police are tracking them, and the report said that the CIB at least once has rushed to an alleged recruitment meeting in Taipei's Ximending district only to find that they had been tricked.
The next day, the Web site involved had already been removed from the Internet.
The police said that this kind of "virtual gang branch" differs from branches of the past, when they had to rent and decorate premises and set up a company or open a bar as a cover.
Now, as soon as they suspect that something is wrong, gangs only have to post the word "Dissolved" on their Web site, and set up another site on another URL under another name.
This ability to renew themselves is mounting a new and severe challenge to the police, who are more used to traditional bugging of telephones and undercover work.