Chinese authorities declare war on cybercriminals

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China’s public security cracked more than 441,000 cases of telecom and internet fraud, arrested more than 690,000 suspects and busted 39,000 criminal gangs in 2021.

BEIJING – Judicial bodies are determined to combat the growing threat posed by internet — and telecom-based swindlers. Yang Zekun reports.

The three young men in Shanghai never thought they would be found by the police so quickly — just one day after they provided technical support for telecom and online swindlers who were based overseas.

The men wanted to make easy money by offering the swindlers support, but they didn’t make a cent.

Instead, earlier this month, they were each fined 5,000 yuan ($715) for violating a new law aimed at fighting telecom and online fraud.

Since the law took effect on Dec 1, police in many cities have issued fines to people involved in related crimes.

The report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China — presented by Xi Jinping on behalf of the 19th CPC Central Committee and approved by the 20th CPC National Congress in October — ordered authorities to take comprehensive measures to promote law and order and use all legal means to crack down on a range of illegal and criminal activities that have caused grave public concern.

Authorities, from the central government and top legislature to judicial departments, have refined the prevention and control mechanism and legal system to combat telecom fraud. New kinds of crime, telecom fraud being a prime example, are now the most dominant forms of such illegality in China, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

Jiang Guoli, deputy director of the Criminal Investigation Bureau at the ministry, said that the rapid development of information technology in recent years has brought significant changes to the criminal structure. That has seen traditional types of crime falling while new network-related felonies have entered the criminal mainstream and become an important challenge for the nation’s public security organs.

Modern methods

Swindlers make use of blockchain, digital currencies, artificial intelligence, remote control screen-sharing and other tools and methods to maintain their networks, evade detection and commit crimes.

Earlier this month, police in Shanghai carried out investigations to combat the activities of people, such as the three young men, who set up devices to provide voice-calling technical services for groups who commit fraud.

On Dec 9, police in Shanghai’s Fengxian district learned that the three young men had rented a farmer’s cottage and registered and installed four network cables. The men were detained when officers raided the property and discovered a number of devices used to facilitate fraudulent activities.

The men admitted that they contacted swindlers overseas on the internet. They agreed to apply for network cables and set up voice-gateway equipment. In return, the swindlers would pay 2,000 yuan a day to use the equipment for 8 hours per session.

“Fraud groups are well-organized and have a clear division of labor, and their criminal chains often involve multiple industries and different regions or countries. The group’s main members usually live overseas and use high payments to lure and recruit inexperienced young people to engage in fraudulent activities in China or other countries,” Jiang said.

Using chat software overseas, the group leader directs domestic personnel to engage in the development, production and promotion of apps to buy and sell personal information, and engage in money transfers and laundering, he said.

Last year, China’s public security organs cracked more than 441,000 cases of telecom and internet fraud, arrested more than 690,000 suspects and busted 39,000 criminal gangs involved in buying and selling mobile phone cards and bank cards, according to the ministry.

Despite the downward trend of such cases over the past year, there is still a high rate of incidence and the situation is complex, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as people’s work and lives are reliant on the internet. That has led to an increased probability of telecom-related fraud, which has become a global problem that must be fought and controlled, Jiang said.

The swindlers’ groups closely follow social media hot spots and constantly change their methods and approaches. They use precise, illegally obtained personal information and tailored scripts to target different groups, he added.

Public security organs have found more than 50 types of fraud traps, of which click farming, fake investments and online loans are the most prevalent.

“Click farming” works by people being lured by the thought of easy money and hired to click on paid advertising links or posts. However, they have to supply personal information and pay certain fees, but the swindlers disappear once they have obtained the information they want.

In addition, some fraudulent operators pose as customer services personnel or judicial officers, according to the ministry.

Huang Xiaoliang, a law professor at Beijing Normal University, said, “The nation’s comprehensive measures against telecom fraud are insufficient, so there are still some weak links in the governance of finance, telecommunications, the internet and other industries. Accountability systems for these and related industries and their administrators need to be established to form synergy in fighting such crime.”

Online criminal chains, such as promotional services for fraud platforms and illegal trading of personal information, have become an important support system for telecom network fraud activities, so removing these criminal chains would be an important measure in the eradication of telecom fraud, he added.

National crackdown

Lou Xiandi, an official with the criminal investigation bureau, said a strict crackdown has had obvious results with regard to controlling telecom fraud, but the situation may rebound if there is any relaxation of the work because the current situation is still difficult and complex.

Experts said that combating and controlling such crime is a complicated social governance problem, which requires the cooperation of various departments, while the government’s design of telecom network fraud governance is also improving.

In April, Xi gave instructions for the crackdown on telecom fraud. He ordered authorities to put people first, coordinate development and security, strengthen awareness of the rule of law and focus on governance at the source.

He also ordered full implementation of all preventive measures, strengthening of the legal system and the advancement of international law enforcement cooperation to curb the frequent occurrences of such crimes.

In April, the general offices of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, China’s Cabinet, issued a guideline on strengthening the crackdown on telecom and online fraud. It ordered authorities to continue cracking down on such crimes, to establish a rigorous fraud prevention system, and to improve the supervision and management of related industries such as finance, telecommunications and the internet in general.

In June, the Office of The State Council Inter-Ministerial Joint Conference on Combating New Types of Telecom and Online Crime launched a yearlong nationwide operation to arrest ringleaders and major members of telecom fraud groups, and put 470 people on a “wanted” list. By the middle of this month, 240 of those people had been detained.

In September, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress approved a law to combat telecom and online fraud. It took effect on Dec 1, providing legal support for fighting such crimes.

The scale of illegal internet-based industries is huge, with criminals illegally obtaining and selling personal details, promoting fraudulent information, spreading criminal methods and tools, trading mobile phone cards, bank cards and network accounts, developing fraudulent websites and platforms, and providing money laundering and cash-out services. All this has prompted the rapid growth of telecom fraud, Lou said.

“To further promote the work of combating telecom fraud, a series of supporting provisions should be formulated and implemented for the law against telecom and online fraud. Targeted training should be conducted to help raise awareness of the law and mobilize all sectors of society to actively participate in the work and improve public awareness of fraud prevention,” he said.

Guo Hua, a law professor at the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, said that telecom network fraud is a new form of “contactless” crime as it exists in virtual spaces, making fraud more concealed and convenient.

“In addition to the government’s strict crackdown, work to prevent telecom and online fraud also needs to focus on coordinating the resources of the industries involved and improving people’s awareness of prevention to form a comprehensive anti-fraud system based on the rule of law,” he said.

“Such a system could also rectify the problems in the criminal chains related to telecom fraud while strengthening governance at the source.”


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