2017-10-12 09:11:14

Following a monthslong investigation, police in eastern China have busted a large-scale online fraud operation, arresting hundreds of suspects, state-owned Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday.

According to Mei Zhongren, deputy director of police in Lishui, a city in coastal Zhejiang province, the suspects had used images of beautiful women as their profile photos on popular Chinese messaging apps WeChat and QQ to entice strangers to accept their contact requests. Then, after “building some feelings,” they lured their victims to lottery websites whose outcomes were controlled by their ring.

At first, the scammers deliberately allowed the victims to “win” money. Once they had cultivated confidence in the system, however, the tides turned, and the frustrated gamblers suffered loss after loss. Once the con artists had squeezed as much money as they could from their victims, they would block them on the chat app.

In May, Lishui police received a tip that someone was selling domain names that were similar to well-known websites and therefore could readily be appropriated by unscrupulous opportunists. After following the trail, police discovered a “criminal interest network” across 12 Chinese provinces.

More than a thousand police officers were brought in to assist with the case. In the end, they uncovered 40 fraud dens and arrested over 400 suspects. But by then, an estimated 10,000 victims had already been cheated out of some 160 million yuan ($24 million).

Online fraud is relatively common in China. In May, police in Wenling, another city in Zhejiang province, arrested 38 suspects who had persuaded people to transfer a combined 220 million yuan to a fake overseas futures trading website.

According to Xinhua, nearly 11,000 complaints involving internet scams were reported in the first five months of 2017, with the average victim losing upward of 11,000 yuan. Around 60 percent of these victims had transferred money on fake or misleading websites, and nearly half were born in the 1990s.

These numbers have not gone unnoticed by the Chinese government, which in June began implementing its new cybersecurity law. “This means that China’s attention to web security and protection has risen to an unprecedented height,” Xinhua reassured the nation’s 750 million net users in May.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: E+/VCG)