42 Taiwanese, 2 Chinese linked to fraud nabbed

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

ILOILO CITY (Updated) - The Philippine police arrested 44 foreigners who allegedly ran an online blackmail syndicate that defrauded victims in China and Taiwan by duping them into believing that their bank accounts have been used by money launderers or terrorists.

The suspects were arrested in two hideouts in central Iloilo province Wednesday by police and immigration agents, said Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa of the national police's Anti-Cybercrime Group.

An initial police raid in one hideout in Phases 5 Imperial VI Subdivision in Guzman-Jesena, Mandurriao district led to the arrest of 23 Taiwanese, including two women, who were caught while engaging some victims online.

Three unidentified syndicate members, however, fled by car to another hideout in Ledesco Subdivision in La Paz district, where police arrested 21 other suspects, including two Chinese nationals.

Several laptop computers, telephone sets and other telecommunications devices used by the syndicate were confiscated.

After identifying potential victims in China or Taiwan, syndicate members, who pretend to be police, prosecutors and court officials separately call and tell them that their bank accounts have been found to have been used by money launderers or even terrorists. The victims are then convinced to transfer their money to a purportedly government-secured bank account for safety and for them to avoid prosecution, Sosa said.

Many victims, who have been defrauded of large amounts of money, have reported the crime to Chinese and Taiwanese authorities, who tipped off their Philippine counterparts and helped track down the syndicate in Iloilo city, about 430 kilometers (265 miles) southeast of Manila, Sosa added.

He said the syndicate members could earn millions of pesos a day, but he didn't reveal how much might have been stolen overall.

Sosa said that authorities were considering whether to deport the Taiwanese suspects to face criminal charges at home.

The suspects would be charged for violation of Republic Act 8484 and Republic Act 10175 or the Cyber Crime Prevention Act of 2012.

Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog said the crime group has erred in selecting the city as their base of operation.

“They may consider the city as a rest and recreation area and tourist destination but they fail to consider that we have an efficient police force against a criminal group,” he said.

The arrests of 42 Taiwanese and two Chinese suspects are the latest success scored by a Philippine government crackdown with help from Interpol and foreign governments but they also show how cybercrime groups have continued to flourish in the Philippines.

In 2012, Philippine police arrested 380 suspected members of a blackmail syndicate, including 291 Taiwanese, 86 Chinese and a New Zealander in the largest number of single-day arrests in a crackdown on online fraud.

In May, Philippine police officials reported that they have arrested, with Interpol's help, at least 58 Filipino suspects who duped hundreds of victims worldwide into exposing themselves in front of webcams or engaging in lewd chats, including a Scottish teenager who committed suicide after being blackmailed.

The Philippines has been trying to build a capability to deal with the cybercrimes but police said more have to be done, including strengthening legislation.

"In the past, criminals only used guns," Sosa said. "Now their weapons are computers, wireless phones and all sorts of telecommunications devices."

"It takes time, but we'll get to them with better technology and help from foreign counterparts," he said.(AP/Lydia Pendon of Sun.Star Iloilo)

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