A court in Xiamen sentenced dozens of people to prison for up to 12 years yesterday for posing as government officials or police in a series of cross-border telephone scams that swindled people out of millions of yuan.
The case, in which more than 180 victims suffered losses of about 15 million yuan (HK$18.9 million), is one of the biggest of its kind in a nation where phone fraud is rapidly increasing.
More than 50 suspects - mostly in their 20s, but the youngest 16 years old - were arrested in 2011 in Cambodia after mainland police found they had been hired by Taiwan-based syndicates. As well as the prison terms, they were also fined according to the level of their involvement in the fraud.
Sun Jungong, spokesman for the Supreme People's Court, said in a media briefing that such fraud had become more difficult to detect in recent years as suspects often made phone calls from overseas.
"The criminals were living in different countries and regions and their communications relied highly on the internet, creating more difficulties for investigating the case," he said. Sun said most of the victims of the scam were retirees and 70 per cent were women.
The Taiwanese organisers involved in the frauds faced charges at home, officials said.
The offenders, posing as members of the police or other legitimate groups, tell the victims that they have legal problems and have to disclose their bank information or transfer money to a certain account to settle the matter, according to the Xiamen Intermediate People's Court.
The fraudsters, hired for monthly salaries of about 5,000 yuan plus bonuses, operated in small groups in Southeast Asian nations and used an automated system to call victims to avoid mainland or Taiwanese police.
There has been a sharp rise in fraud cases on the mainland, said Wang Feng , director of the fraud investigation body under the Ministry of Public Security, saying such crimes had doubled to more than 110,000 between 2011 and last year. More than 16,000 suspects had been arrested and 180,000 bank accounts seized since last year over alleged connections with phone scams, Wang said.
He said the crackdown on cross-border phone fraud was a joint effort between mainland and Taiwan police, helped by law enforcement agencies in Cambodia, Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries.
"Mainland police and Taiwan police have kept up unbroken communications on relevant issues in recent years," Wang said.