Police in Thailand have detained four individuals, two Taiwanese and two Japanese, for allegedly running a call scam that scammed approximately 17,500 victims in Japan out of of $267 million in less than two years.
Callers acting as bank officials and police advised victims that their accounts had been compromised due to a data leak and that they should move their funds to “secure accounts” provided by the scammers.
Police Col Rathachote Chotikhun, deputy head investigator of the Immigration Bureau told reporters that the two Taiwanese and one Japanese suspect were apprehended at two neighbouring houses in Samut Sakhon province on Wednesday.
The second Japanese man was apprehended in Krabi province. He didn’t say when.
According to Pol Col Rathachote, the two Japanese suspects utilised one of the two houses as a call centre, while the Taiwanese suspects used the other. Police seized 11 mobile phones, two notebook computers, call data written in Japanese, and five cash and credit cards discovered at the two houses as evidence.
The two Japanese callers allegedly got 200,000 yen per month (about 47,000 baht) in addition to 10% of the victims’ stolen funds.
According to Deputy National Police Chief Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn, the gang defrauded their Japanese victims of around$276 million (about 40 billion yen) in less than two years.
Thailand’s widespread online scams challenging
Wetang Phuangsup, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, recently stated that between March 1, 2022 and July 15, 2023, 296,063 cases of online frauds were registered, totaling 39.1 billion baht in financial fraud.
During the same time period, 20,667 people were duped by fraudulent investment schemes organised by criminal gangs, resulting in losses of 20.7 billion baht for these victims, according to Wetang, who is also the ministry’s spokeswoman.
Many people have become victims of investment scams, according to Pakorn Peetathawatchai, president of the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET), since scammers imitate organisations and well-known figures in order to attract people into fraudulent investment schemes and online criminal activities.
Online scammers, according to the Cyber Crime Investigation Division, mostly engage in online shopping scams, persuading job seekers to transfer money, loan scams, investment scams, and making threats over the phone.
Over the last 14 months, financial loss has been assessed at 11.5 billion baht ($323 Million).
Who’s the brains behind the online scams?
According to Thai PBS, the vast majority of the masterminds are foreigners based in other countries, and as a result, the vast majority of them have escaped capture. Previously, criminal gangs from Taiwan perpetrated financial scams by hiring Thai criminals because they needed people who could speak Thai. Later, Chinese gangs from mainland China took up those unlawful activities.
Recently, a clone of Thai criminals who used to work for foreign agents has taken over the show. Their operations are typically based in neighbouring countries such as Cambodia.
To reach their victims, criminal gangs use telephones and numerous social media platforms, such as Facebook.
Scammers’ strategies have evolved throughout time, first by developing fake financial schemes and, more recently, by impersonating celebrities and powerful persons. According to Thai officials, they also target retirees and those looking for rapid returns because they are naive.
Vikrom Kromadit, the founder and acting CEO of Amata Corporation Pcl, is one of people who has been impersonated through a Facebook profile. Scammers posing as Vikrom made a message enticing people to engage in a programme promising weekly profits of 3%-7%.
“I feel guilty that many people have lost their money because of me [being impersonated by scammers],” Vikrom went on to say.
He stated that he had attempted to warn individuals about the fraud since last year, but that the problem had not yet been resolved. More than 50 suspected scammers were charged last year, and nine people were apprehended this year, while three fled, he added.
He warned them that large investment returns were a trap. “It is impossible to find investment returns of 3%-7% a week even if you sell drugs,” he told the audience. People should seek advice from financial specialists, not from him, he stressed.
Thailand to combat internet scamming
The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) and its ten partners, which include the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federation of Thai Capital Market Organisations, the Thai Bankers’ Association, the Thai Listed Companies Association, and the Association of Investment Management Companies, recently launched an anti-investment fraud campaign.
“In the first phase of the operation, we will disseminate investment information about fake news and intensify efforts on investment education for investors and people at large,” Pakorn stated in a press release.
He promised that in the second phase, concerned parties will coordinate on the implementation of severe and effective legal action.
The SEC’s deputy secretary-general, Thawatchai Pittayasophon, stated that even the SEC had been impersonated. This year, the SEC filed legal action against ten Facebook pages for impersonating the SEC. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has launched a “Investor Alert” campaign to warn investors against bogus news and fraudulent accounts on social media sites.
Wetang advised people to take precautions and be wary of persons who solicit money with the promise of extremely big returns. They should not send money to such individuals. Victims who are impersonated or deceived while purchasing online can contact authorities at 1212 or the cyber police at 1441, he added.
According to Vikrom, the lack of proper staffing in the police department and authority at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society may make it impossible to handle widespread internet scams. He proposed that Thailand take a lesson from China and Singapore, where law enforcement is more effective and criminal penalties are severe.