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2021-12-29 08:52:20

Police in central China’s Hunan province busted online scammers who swindled thousands of minors by setting up a website to help them bypass the government’s playtime curfew, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Tuesday.

The suspect, surnamed Tang, conspired with others to set up a fraudulent website, claiming minors could play uninterrupted games for a one-time fee ranging from 10 to 50 yuan ($2-$8), the media outlet reported, citing police in the city of Shaoyang. The scammers deceived nearly 3,000 minors, amassing over 86,000 yuan from them.

Since an online gaming anti-addiction system was introduced to curb growing video game addiction among young Chinese in 2007, authorities have only tightened restrictions to reduce screen time, which has been blamed for poor academic performance and increasing myopia rates among children. In one of the strictest provisions so far, authorities in August ordered gaming companies to only allow minors to play for an hour on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and official holidays.

“There is no real-name registration system for children, so when we called the parents, they were caught off guard,” Yang Jiafeng, a police officer in Shaoyang, told The Paper, adding elder cousins of some minors were footing the bill. “Kids should know the government’s anti-addiction system cannot be lifted by an individual with ease.”

The number of scammers exploiting minors has seen an increase, particularly over the past two years, with courts hearing some 20 related cases, according to China Judgments Online, an open database of legal cases. Last year, a court in the eastern Jiangsu province sentenced a scammer to three years in prison for tricking a minor into paying 170,000 yuan — it was unclear how the underage player had access to the money — to “bypass the anti-addiction system.”

China has over 183 million internet users under 18, with the majority using online services for entertainment purposes such as gaming, according to a government survey released in July. A separate study showed that 78% of Chinese minors first started using the internet at the age of 10 or below.

Between January and September this year, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate prosecuted around 5,000 offenders engaging in telecommunication fraud against children, according to official data. In September, authorities in Beijing also slapped a gaming company with a 100,000 yuan fine as punishment for violating playtime limits for minors.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Students play video games at a competition in Zhengzhou, Henan province, July 17, 2018. IC)