PJ probe 407 phone scams in 2023, 116 involving uni students

2024-01-31 03:14     BY William Chan    Comment:36

Illegal currency exchange deals serve as breeding ground for crime: PJ director

During a Chinese New Year gathering with the media at the PJ headquarters in Zape yesterday, Judiciary Police (PJ) Director Sit Chong Meng confirmed a significant rise in telephone fraud cases, with 407 investigated by the Judiciary Police last year, representing a 2.6-fold increase year on year.

Sit underlined that the fraudsters’ primary method was to impersonate government officials. He also pointed out that 116 cases involved university students, or 28.5 percent of the total.

The phone scams involved a staggering 150 million patacas. Additionally, there was a substantial increase in other types of fraud, such as Ponzi schemes, ticket fraud, online shopping fraud, order placing scams, online credit card fraud, and cases of sextortion, with the year-on-year increase rates ranging from 40 to 90 percent.

Sit further noted that with the support of the banking industry, 531 cases involving over 130 million patacas were stopped before the payments could have been made. Moreover, the Judiciary Police reported 361 suspicious fraudulent bank accounts to the banking sector, leading to measures such as alerting and freezing the relevant accounts.

Sit expressed regret over the significant increase in scams, adding that in contrast to the past, people nowadays are more isolated and constantly engaged with their phones. “This makes individuals, especially young people, more susceptible to falling for scams,” he said, adding that harm caused by non-contact crimes is increasing, which in turn poses greater challenges to the police forces’ criminal investigation efforts.

Sit pointed out that while AI-driven crime trends have emerged in other parts of the world, the Judiciary Police have not yet received any reports related to such cases locally. However, he acknowledged the potential risks associated with AI-based crimes and emphasised that special units have been set up by the police to prevent and address these emerging threats.

Illegal currency deals breed crime

Serious crimes in casinos, including money laundering, usury, and illegal gambling, have experienced a significant decrease compared to 2019, Sit said. In line with this trend, the Judiciary Police conducted investigations and reported a total of 1,107 cases related to gambling crimes last year, a 48.7 percent decrease compared to pre-pandemic 2019.

However, illegal currency exchange activities, although not [yet] a criminal offence, have become a breeding ground for various crimes, particularly fraud. According to Sit, the police took action by apprehending over 11,000 individuals involved in illegal currency exchange activities last year. Furthermore, the police reported 2,048 individuals to the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau (DICJ), resulting in entry bans imposed on them.

Sit said that last year the Judiciary Police opened a total of 12,390 case files, marking a significant 43 percent year-on-year increase, although the number decreased by 20.5 percent compared to 2019. Among these cases, there were 6,804 criminal inquiries and complaints, demonstrating a substantial 52 percent year-on-year increase, and even a 7.1 percent increase compared to 2019. In 2023, the Judiciary Police completed 10,480 case files, leading to 2,516 individuals being referred to the Public Prosecutions Office (MP) for further investigation and possible charges. 

Judiciary Police (PJ) Director Sit Chong Meng (centre), flanked by other senior PJ officers, look on during yesterday’s Chinese New Year gathering with the media at the PJ headquarters in Zape. – Photo: William Chan

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