Tue, Dec 27, 2016 - Page 3 News List

Beijing targets young fraudsters abroad

COST-BENEFIT:One expert said profit far outweighs the punishment for getting caught, as scammers often receive sentences of less than a year if caught in Taiwan

By Amber Wang  /  AFP, TAIPEI

Police guard fraud suspects after their arrival at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport on Sept. 9 last year.

Photo: AFP / Criminal Investigation Bureau

Taiwanese fraud rings based all over the world have for years swindled billions of dollars from members of the public through telephone scams — now they are the target of an angry China.

As relations sour between Taipei and Beijing, China has insisted that Taiwanese scammers caught abroad be deported to China.

While Taipei has called the move “abduction,” Beijing says it is justified, because the majority of the telephone fraud victims are Chinese.

In several swoops since April, about 200 Taiwanese fraud suspects have been deported to China from countries including Armenia, Cambodia and Kenya, according to Taiwanese authorities.

The latest incident came on Tuesday last week, when 21 fraud suspects were deported “against their will” to China by Malaysia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Previously, suspects were usually deported back to Taiwan as part of informal arrangements between crime-fighting agencies in Taiwan, China and countries where the fraudsters operated.

The new wave of deportations to China are widely seen as a move to pressure President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) — relations between Taipei and Beijing have grown increasingly frosty since she won the presidency in January.

“Taiwan and China used to jointly investigate fraud cases, but it is getting more difficult with the change of ruling party in Taiwan,” said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hsu Shu-hua (許淑華), who has proposed tougher fraud laws.

Authorities have said the current lack of cross-strait cooperation is making it more difficult to tackle the burgeoning networks, which involve thousands of Taiwanese and Chinese.

This year, more than 10,600 telephone fraud cases were recorded as of October, with numbers almost doubling over the past two years due to smartphone app fraud.

Scammers have been hacking into popular messaging app Line and posing as users’ friends to access telephone account details or ask them to buy gift cards.

Fraudsters also call victims, posing as police officers requesting credit card information, which is then used to make purchases, or pretending to be prosecutors demanding access to accounts linked to money laundering.

Some victims transfer their entire accounts over to the fake police officers, who say they need to protect the money while an investigation is under way.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office has accused the swindlers of causing more than US$1.5 billion in losses annually in China.

Historic crackdowns when relations were better between China and Taiwan have forced fraudsters further afield, Criminal Investigation Bureau anti-fraud specialist Chan Chih-wen said.

Since 2011, more than 2,000 Taiwanese fraud suspects have been arrested in 15 countries.

While cross-strait politics might now make them harder to catch, some observers say a malaise among young Taiwanese is also to blame.

Due to a stagnating economy, many young people in Taiwan are disillusioned about a lack of jobs.

Chang Hsieh-hai (張學海), head of Taiwan Association for Legal Aid, a civil group assisting jailed Taiwanese in Thailand, said his cases are often young people duped into joining fraud rings, which then confiscate their passports and mobile phones.

“They are 20-somethings who can’t find work after graduating. They were introduced by friends and went to Thailand thinking they were getting normal jobs,” he said.

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