Call time on call scams
The handling of the so-called “call-centre” scam by the authorities has been a disappointment.
It’s reported that more than 1,600 people filed complaints about the notorious scam last year which accrued an accumulated loss of over 1 billion baht. Of course, there must be many victims who didn’t bother filing a case.
Efforts to crack down on the scammers have been sluggish and inefficient.
A police statement at a recent press conference that “illegal SIM cards play an important role in online scams” does not demonstrate much progress.
A police commander came under fire when he released a clip of him scolding a would-be scammer who called him. He switched off his phone, instead of making an effort to trace the caller.
That could have helped police efforts to find the money trail and proxy accounts, known as banchee ma or “horse accounts”.
The officer was condemned for his response that allowed the caller, as well as the mastermind, to evade the law.
A few crackdowns were attempted inside the country and abroad over the past few weeks, which saw the rounding-up of dozens of alleged scammers, including 46 Thais in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. It is reported that the illegal operation was run by Chinese criminal gangs.
As in the Sihanoukville raid, most of those arrested were small fry. Many took part in the activities willingly, but numerous others were lured into it and were unable to escape the clutches of the ringleaders. Some were beaten or sold to other gangs like slaves.
So far, only one ringleader involved in online gambling and money laundering has been arrested on Thai soil. Reports that he is connected to officials in uniform warrant serious investigation.
It is known that Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville are operation centres for Chinese criminal gangs.
Pol Maj Gen Phanthana Nutchanart, commander of the Immigration Bureau’s investigation division, says this makes it difficult for Thai police to get their hands on the gang leaders.
Scammers tend to use similar storylines. Pretending to be courier service providers, state officials and even police, they lure victims into transferring money, by falsely accusing them of illegal activities such as tax evasion or smuggling prohibited items in the post.
Duped victims trying to prove their innocence give the scammers their ID or account numbers, and end up losing money. Numerous cases involve fraud in online gambling.
Now that more people are aware of the fraud, scammers are likely to improve their stealing techniques. This should be cause for worry.
The Digital Economy and Society Ministry, meanwhile, said it is seeking cooperation with its Cambodian counterpart so it can step up efforts to arrest the ringleaders.
At the same time, it is to revise laws to better tackle the crime, like limiting SIM-card ownership and suppressing money-laundering via proxy accounts. All this looks time-consuming.
The DES must work with state agencies in rolling out immediate and short-term measures against the scammers.
They must show they are making a concerted effort to deal with the problem and not seeking to score points with a few token victories. They should try to regain public confidence by showing their teeth, casting their net and catching some big fish.