Bei­jing tar­gets young Tai­wanese fraud­sters

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Tai­wanese fraud rings based all over the world have for years swin­dled bil­lions of dol­lars from mem­bers of the pub­lic through phone scam­snow they are the tar­get of an an­gry China. As re­la­tions sour be­tween Taipei and Bei­jing, China has in­sisted that Tai­wanese scam­mers caught abroad are de­ported to the main­land. While Taipei has called the move “ab­duc­tion”, Bei­jing says it is justified be­cause the ma­jor­ity of the phone fraud vic­tims are main­land Chi­nese.

In sev­eral swoops since April, around 200 Tai­wanese fraud sus­pects have been de­ported to China from coun­tries in­clud­ing Ar­me­nia, Cam­bo­dia and Kenya, ac­cord­ing to Tai­wanese au­thor­i­ties. The lat­est in­ci­dent came yes­ter­day when 21 fraud sus­pects were de­ported “against their will” to China by Malaysia, Tai­wan’s for­eign af­fairs min­istry said. Pre­vi­ously, sus­pects would usu­ally have been de­ported back to Tai­wan as part of in­for­mal ar­range­ments be­tween crime­fight­ing agen­cies in China, Tai­wan and coun­tries where the fraud­sters are op­er­at­ing.

Bei­jing still sees self-rul­ing Tai­wan as part of its ter­ri­tory and the new wave of de­por­ta­tions are widely seen as a move to pres­sur­ize China-scep­tic Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen-re­la­tions be­tween the two sides 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 law­maker Hsu Shu-hua of the op­po­si­tion Kuom­intang, who has pro­posed tougher fraud laws. Crimefighters say the cur­rent lack of cross-strait co­op­er­a­tion is mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult to tackle the bur­geon­ing net­works.

The crime rings in­volve thou­sands of cit­i­zens from Tai­wan and China. This year more than 10,600 phone fraud cases were recorded up to Oc­to­ber, with num­bers al­most dou­bling over the past two years due to smartphone app fraud. Scam­mers have been hack­ing into pop­u­lar mes­sag­ing app Line pos­ing as the user’s friends to ac­cess phone ac­count de­tails, or ask­ing them to buy gift cards. Fraud­sters also make phone calls to vic­tims, pos­ing as police of­fi­cers to re­quest credit card in­for­ma­tion which is then used to make pur­chases, or pre­tend­ing to be pros­e­cu­tors de­mand­ing ac­cess to ac­counts im­pli­cated in money-laun­der­ing. Some vic­tims trans­fer their en­tire ac­counts over to the fake law en­forcers who say they need to ringfence the money while an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­der way. China’s Tai­wan Af­fairs Of­fice has ac­cused the swindlers of caus­ing more than $1.5 bil­lion in losses an­nu­ally on the main­land.

His­toric crack­downs when re­la­tions were bet­ter be­tween China and Tai­wan have forced fraud­sters fur­ther afield, says Chan Chih-wen, an anti-fraud spe­cial­ist at Tai­wan’s Crim­i­nal In­ves­ti­ga­tion Bureau (CIB). Since 2011, more than 2,000 Tai­wanese fraud sus­pects have been ar­rested in 15 coun­tries. While cross-strait pol­i­tics may now make them harder to catch, some observers say malaise among Tai­wanese youth is also to blame. With a stag­nat­ing econ­omy many young peo­ple in Tai­wan are dis­il­lu­sioned about a lack of jobs. Zhang Xue-hai, head of a civil group as­sist­ing jailed Tai­wanese na­tion­als in Thai­land, said his cases are young peo­ple duped into join­ing fraud rings, which then con­fis­cate their pass­ports and mo­bile phones. — AFP

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