Shanghai police in a tug-of-war with telecom scammers over potential victims

Since August, about 13,000 police officers have been engaged to talk to potential telecom scam victims in person, and 60 million yuan of loss was prevented this way in November.

Amid heightened awareness about telephone scams, Shanghai police seem to be making some progress in fighting back against the fraudsters.

By the end of November this year, city police had saved 149 million yuan (US$23 million) from bank accounts of telecom scam victims, but more loss was prevented before the money was transferred.

In telecom scams, callers often impersonate officials or authority figures and prey on the elderly, students or the unemployed. Victims usually lose a large amount of money from their bank accounts in the blink of an eye and are left to cry over spilled milk. So police, believing in the axiom that prevention is better than cure, are now trying to stop victims from falling into the trap in the first place.

However, in this critical tug-of-war with the scammers, police have found that it is not enough to just call on potential victims when scam calls are detected because some people simply ignore their warnings.

Since August this year, about 13,000 police officers from all over Shanghai have been sent to talk to potential telecom scam victims in person to convince them that they are dealing with dangerous criminals, rather than actual officials, police said on Wednesday.

With this direct approach, in November alone, potential victims were prevented from parting with 60 million yuan, police said.

The Shanghai police’s “Telecommunications and Online Fraud Squad”, which officially started to operate in July last year, makes 600 to 800 calls every day to people who they "detect" talking to a scammer over the phone. Such phone calls are identified through methods police were reluctant to discuss.

“Some people told us they would not listen to scammers, but then ended up losing hundreds of thousands of yuan,” said Fan Hua, a senior police officer who specializes in combating telecom scams.

Presently, especially in cases involving old people, the squad engages colleagues from police stations of areas where potential victims live, as in the case which took place in Xuhui District last month.

The squad informed Xuhui police on the afternoon of November 14 that a 55-year-old man surnamed Chen living in Caohejing was likely on the phone with scammers.

A police officer from Caohejing police station went to Chen’s address right away, but he had already left his home that morning. Police soon found out that Chen had checked into a hotel.

The officer then went to the hotel to talk to Chen, who only then realized that he was being taken for a ride by a scammer. Chen said he was about to transfer money to the alleged "official".

“We have trained our police officers to deal with such cases by revealing to victims similar cases and engaging their relatives to persuade them,” Fan said. “But in many cases the victims don't open the door for us or tell us the truth.”

Cover their tracks

Fan said the police are now also faced with tricksters who are more shrewd and have found new ways to cover their tracks, thereby avoid being caught on the phone with victims.

“Besides making phone calls, they also communicate with the victims on WeChat, which makes it harder for us to detect their communication,” he said. “In some cases, they have even asked the victims to get another mobile phone number so we can’t contact them.”

And the conmen buy the victims' silence by telling them that they’re somehow involved in criminal cases, which makes them reluctant to talk to their relatives, friends and the police.

In some case, the scammers have also turned victims into accomplices, police revealed.

In a case that Hongkou police cracked last month, the suspect, a woman from Sichuan Province, went to the homes of victims, mostly elderly people, and helped them transfer money to the scammers.

The woman had herself lost 10,000 yuan to telecom scammers while in Sichuan and then was sent by the same conmen on a “mission” to “catch crime suspects in Shanghai,” police said.

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