They sound Chinese, but they may not all be Chinese.
Taiwanese fraud rings have based themselves all over the world and have for years swindled billions of dollars globally. Law enforcement operations around the world since April hauled in a catch of nearly 200 Taiwanese fraud suspects.
The crime ring involves thousands of individuals from Taiwan and China. In 2016 alone, more than 10,600 cases were recorded (up to October). The modus operandi include scams such as posing as a victim’s friend and asking them to buy gift cards, posing as police officers to request credit card information, pretending to be prosecutors demanding access to bank accounts and falsifying customs officials to demand for payment amongst others.
In Singapore, the scam calls are made so often and on such a wide scale that it is hard to find someone whom has not been a target. Victims have been estimated to have lost more than S$1m to these phone scammers.
China themselves have claimed that their citizens have lost more than $1.5b in losses annually on the mainland.
So since these fraudsters are caught, it’s just a matter of charging them in court and allowing the criminal justice system run its course right? Well, not so easy. The tricky part here is – whose criminals are these? And who shall be in charge of charging them?
Those arrested in Armenia, Cambodia and Kenya have been deported to China – lock, stock and barrel. This has annoyed Taiwan because they claim that the Taiwanese criminals belong to them. China on the other hand insists that all the crooks go back to the mainland.
When the Kuomintang was in-charge, there used to be a joint Taiwan-China investigation to fraud cases. But since they lost control of the island after being defeated at the elections, the mainland appears to be giving the ruling, pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party a very difficult working relationship.
With the lack of cross-strait cooperation, it is going to be more difficult to fight these scam rings.
Malaysia is now caught in the middle of the row. Having in their hands 21 Taiwanese suspected of multi-million dollar communications fraud, they promptly deported them to China, much to the displeasure of Taipei. Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry expressed regret and “stern opposition” to Malaysia’s decision to deport the Taiwanese to China.
“This action by Malaysia has seriously harmed the rights of our citizens, and harms the long standing friendship between Taiwan and Malaysia,” it said. The statement also revealed that Taiwanese police had been working with Malaysia to arrange for the suspects to be returned to Taiwan, but that it had buckled under Beijing’s pressure to send suspects to the mainland.
Meanwhile, the scam calls will continue.
A stagnating economy and lack of jobs in Taiwan means that many young people are disillusioned about job prospects.
“They (the scammers) are twenty-somethings who can’t find work after graduating. They were introduced by friends and went to Thailand thinking they were getting normal jobs,” said Zhang Xue-hai, head of civil group Taiwan Association for Legal Aid.
“I just want to help my child to live a better life,” said Liu Tai-ting, 27, in a confession aired on Taiwanese television. He said he made around $8,000 in Kenya and wired the money to his ex-wife.
The only thing we can do to reduce these scam calls, is to make it unprofitable for the crime rings. Create awareness amongst your families, especially the elderly and the young. Share police warnings. Yes, you can also make fun of them because comedy is pretty effective at sending a message.
However, scams will still continue until people find new sources of income. Until it becomes economically irrational to become a fraudster, it is perhaps their only hope and means of survival. To solve this problem is beyond us and will be up to international forces, China and Taiwan to jointly make commitments to end it all.