Japan arrests 13 Chinese in theft operation targeting online banking
Julian Ryall in Tokyo
Police in Tokyo have arrested 13 Chinese nationals on suspicion of stealing as much as 600 million yen (HK$45.52 million), by secretly accessing internet bank accounts, transferring the funds then withdrawing the money from ATMs.
Police have identified the leader of the group as Lin Xiumei, 42, who was arrested in Tokyo in January after allegedly accepting 760,000 yen in cash that had been withdrawn from an automated teller machine by an another member of the gang.
Authorities believe that Lin was aware the cash had been obtained illegally, although she is denying the allegations.
Police declined to comment on the state of the case, citing an ongoing investigation in which police are working with Interpol to unravel further details.
The Japanese authorities have evidence that the gang was able to access more than 200 internet bank accounts belonging to people and corporations across the country and illegally transfer funds to other accounts.
In one case, a Japanese company lost a total of 36 million yen from its corporate account, Jiji Press reported.
The criminal group's accounts, in Chinese names, were then accessed and emptied with cash cards that were sent to the group from Fujian Province. Interpol is presently attempting to identify the individuals who set up the overseas accounts and provided the cash cards.
Lin's alleged accomplices, mostly in their 20s and 30s, reportedly communicated via the Chinese WeChat messaging service to arrange handovers of cash.
Police allege that Lin was also operating an illegal underground bank that transferred the stolen money to China.
The case is the first time that a suspect has been arrested on suspicion of sending funds to China that had been obtained by illegal online transfers.
Authorities in Japan are warning users of online banking services to be more careful with their transactions and security precautions. Internet banking is booming in popularity because of the simplicity and speed of transactions, but cases of online fraud are increasing.
The National Police Agency announced in May that the amount of money that gets misappropriated in cyberspace has risen to 1.4 billion yen a year.
Experts say that as Japan has a very low crime rate, people here have a misplaced sense of security when it comes to banks.