Prosecutions for telecoms, online fraudsters skyrocket

A policeman introduces telecom fraud countermeasures to passengers at the Shihezi Railway Station, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Jan. 10, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

The number of people prosecuted for

cybercrime-related offenses has shot up in recent years, marking important progress in the fight against telecom and online fraud, according to the Supreme People's Procuratorate.

According to its annual work report, the number of people prosecuted for illegally buying and selling phone cards and bank cards and helping others withdraw and transfer money increased from 137 in 2018 to 130,000 last year.

People who knowingly provide internet access, server hosting, network storage, communication transmission and other technical support to others to commit crimes or who advertise promotions, payment and settlement and other assistance, will be subject to punishment warranted under Criminal Law.

Statistics released by the SPP showed that the majority of suspects involved in aiding and abetting cybercrimes generally have low education and income levels, with 66.3 percent having a junior high school education or lower, and 52.4 percent having no steady employment. The crimes have become the third most prosecuted offenses nationwide, behind reckless driving — most of which are drunk driving — and theft.

Telecom fraud is a contactless crime, often not noticed by victims at first, and is well-organized, cross-border and has high-tech involvement, said Sun Qian, deputy procurator-general of the SPP.

Some technology company employees want to make a quick profit and use the excuse of "tech neutrality" as cover for their actions, which have nevertheless supported crime in many cases, Sun said.

With the online crime network spreading, criminals — online and offline, at home and abroad — have worked together to improve their strategies to try to stay a step ahead of the authorities, he said.

"Some people have sold or rented professional equipment or tools to criminals to commit offenses related to telecom fraud, including hacking and infringement of personal data. Fraudsters then use the stolen information to make precise 'portraits' and design personalized scam tactics," he said.

Sun Fei, a prosecutor with Beijing's Dongcheng District People's Procuratorate, said that many young people are involved in offering assistance to cybercriminals because they do not have a strong sense of the law.

Some young people lack understanding of whether their activities are in violation of the law, and adopt a tacit attitude toward the fraudsters' use of their bank cards, she said.

Sun Qian said that prosecutors found that areas such as recruitment, internships and part-time job searches and offers suffer frequently from infringements of personal information and other related scams.

In one case mentioned in the annual work report, 57 college students in Zhejiang province were scheduled for telemarketing internships in companies in other provinces. Though ostensibly legitimate, the companies were in fact telecom fraud rings that trick people into fake futures trading, but neither the school nor the students were aware of this until 2020, when police investigated the companies on suspicion of fraud.

The students were arrested the following year. After examination, prosecutors concluded that they had not willfully intended to commit fraud and should not be prosecuted. In April 2022, authorities withdrew the cases and terminated the investigation.

The SPP and the Ministry of Education issued guidance to some of the students involved and undertook fraud education on campus to prevent students from falling victim, as well as from being cheated into involvement in fraud themselves.

The SPP will work closely with other departments to intensify the crackdown on overseas telecom fraud, and punish those committing illegal activities that provide support and assistance to would-be fraudsters, Sun Qian said.

Efforts will be stepped up to investigate and punish preliminary cases involving misuse of personal information, and cut off support of fraud at the source, he said.