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88 Chinese nationals arrested in Indonesia for duping people in online romance scams

The scammers usually create a fake profile with another person's photo and direct communication, then try to win the affection of the person till they see an opportunity to ask for money.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee Jakarta Published on: August 31, 2023 14:21 IST
Chinese nationals arrested by police in Batam, Indonesia
Image Source : AP Chinese nationals arrested by police in Batam, Indonesia

At least 88 Chinese citizens have been arrested in Indonesia for their involvement in cross-border online romance scams, said the police after receiving a tip from the Chinese security ministry. Police believed that the suspects are part of a telephone fraud and online love scam syndicate.

According to Riau Islands police spokesperson Zahwani Pandra Arsyad, the Chinese nationals were operating from a shophouse in an industrial park located in Batam Island. Most of their targets appeared to be fellow Chinese who were tricked into transferring money after the callers manipulated them by building their trust and affection.

The scammers usually created a fake profile with another person's photo and direct communication. They attempt to influence the person to the extent when they see an opportunity to ask for money. Common reasons for asking money generally include medical emergencies or travel costs.

The Chinese nationals were arrested on Batam Island, located close to Singapore. Five of them were women. The syndicate had come from China to Indonesia in January on tourist visas because of a crackdown by Chinese authorities on their networks. They now stand the risk of deportation.

"We are still investigating this case, including whether any Indonesians among the victims. If there are none, we would deport all of them immediately," said Arsyad, adding that none of them could speak or write the Indonesian language.

He further said that the Indonesian police are working closely with immigration officials and China’s Ministry of Public Security in dealing with the suspects.

A worrying cybercrime trend

According to the US Federal Trade Commission in 2019, romance-related scams have generated more losses than any other consumer fraud. Scammers typically target victims online, either through social media or dating sites.

The United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights on Wednesday said that criminal syndicates have forced hundreds of thousands of people in Southeast Asia into participating in unlawful online scams, including false romantic ploys, bogus investment pitches and illegal gambling schemes.

Citing “credible sources”, it said that at least 120,000 people in strife-torn Myanmar and roughly 100,000 in Cambodia “may be held in situations where they are forced to carry out online scams.”

Laos, the Philippines and Thailand were also cited among the main countries of destination or transit for tens of thousands of people. This has become a worrying trend in Asia where many workers are trapped in virtual slavery and participate in cybercrime scams.

In 2017, Indonesia had  arrested 419 Chinese and Taiwanese citizens who were involved in a telephone fraud and online investment scam syndicate. They were repatriated to face charges in their homeland after spending two months in Indonesian jails and being fined $770 for violating their tourist visas. In 2019, Indonesian police arrested 85 Chinese citizens for involvement in a similar case.

(with AP inputs)

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