Phone scams continue to plague Taiwan

Phone scams are common in Taiwan. But recent arrests made there show that it’s an international issue, affecting most of the South East Asian countries. Nations in the region are seeking greater cooperation in order to find a solution. Prasanth Aby Thomas reports.

In September 2011, the Taiwanese Government cracked down on culprits of phone scams which had become rampant in the country. The arrested were suspected of swindling almost $31 million from Chinese and Taiwanese victims. The police have been trying to control the issue drawing support at a global level.

However, the issue remains common and continues to be a social menace, to the extent that most people accept it as part of life. But to those who are not familiar with the issue, these calls would seem amusing or even funny.

Feng Yi Lu, a homemaker and mother of two, says: “Once someone called me pretending to be from the police station and said that a crime has been registered against me and I have to pay a fine”. The caller went on to say that she had to transfer money to a specified bank account. Feng Yi, unlike others, knew that the call was fake since this was not her first experience. Not so long ago she had got a call supposedly from the National Health Insurance Department and said that she has purchased medicines that were not covered under the insurance and had to pay for them.

The most interesting of all was when someone called Feng Yi and tried to mimic her daughter’s voice. “The person said ‘mom I have been kidnapped. These people are asking for money, please pay them and help me’.” Since both her children were abroad she was worried initially. Fortunately for her, the mimicked voice was not perfect enough and she felt something was wrong. “I asked ‘who is this?’ and the call was cut”

Hung Wei Liu, a PhD student once bought a book from books.com.tw, an online book store from Taiwan. After the book was delivered he received a call saying that the cashier had made a mistake while scanning the barcode of the product and he needs to pay more money.

Wen Yin Lai, a pharmacist, talks about a similar experience after making an online purchase. She got a call saying that she had opted to pay in three installments and that it was time for her to make her second payment.

Most people suspect these rogue callers to be from mainland China. In recent news report from the Taiwanese daily China Times, police uncovered a ring of fraudsters and believe that these crimes are rooted in China.

The police have set up a helpline to enable people to report phone scamming. Their website shows that phone calls pretending to be from a government official are the most common of all. Issues of privacy concerning personal information is a hotly debated topic in the context of this issue in Taiwan. Yam News, an online newspaper in the country, reported that a study had concluded that personal information was leaked from computer networks of major online stores and e-commerce sites either by hackers or via internal staff.

In 2009, the country signed a crime fighting agreement with China. However, the problem is not exclusive to South East Asia. The arrests made with regard to this issue have been from from Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and China. Korea and Japan have reported similar issues too. Governments are looking for stringent policies for protection of personal information and enforcement of law to crack down on the scammers.

Photo courtesy: Pen-Chich Chen, Chen Ju Da

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