Chinese police have arrested 44 suspects in the latest operation against a racket that preyed upon the victims’ national pride and desire for easy returns. Under the scheme, victims were promised a big payout in exchange for a small fee to help “unfreeze” assets held overseas that once belonged to former dynastic rulers and the Kuomintang government, authorities said. China’s online scam victims cheated of US$1,400 each on average, says internet watchdog Since the first arrests were made last year, criminals have fleeced more than 93,000 victims of over 950 million yuan (US$138 million or HK$1.08 billion), the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement on Thursday. The criminals used WeChat and other social media platforms to tout the “Making People Rich through Charity Institute”. The victims, many of them elderly, were told a 10 yuan payment would secure membership of the institute, which was working to get the assets back. QR code scams rise in China, putting e-payment security in spotlight According to the pitch, dynastic rulers – and later the Kuomintang government that fled the mainland after losing the civil war in 1949 – had deposited huge fortunes overseas so future family members and relatives would have a source of funds. Members were promised payouts of up to 50,000 yuan once the assets were recovered and they received official-looking documents explaining the government’s policy and authorising the venture. The scheme caught the attention of authorities at the end of April, when hundreds of elderly people from across the country flocked to the National Stadium in Beijing after they received a notice from the institute about an “unfreezing ceremony”. Everyone who turned up would receive 50,000 yuan, the notice said. The ministry said it had broken up 15 gangs involved in the scam, going back to October. Police in Anhui province busted one gang calling itself Julong International. Hong Kong man, 44, cheated of HK$3.3 million in phone scam To convince their victims the assets were real, the criminals forged certificates asserting the authenticity of the ancient treasures or bought fake antiques and passed them off as authentic, Xinhua quoted officers as saying. The authorities said few victims filed reports because the individual amounts involved were quite small.