Thai crackdown forces romance scam syndicates to Malaysia

29 May 2019 / 17:56 H.

BANGKOK: In just a year, a whopping 162.2 million baht (RM22.39 million) was fleeced from Thais who fell prey to online romance scams but, with the heat on them, syndicates behind these rackets are now running south to Malaysia to set up base.

Thai Police said the good news was that the numbers have fallen compared to previous years, and much of this can be attributed to increased surveillance and operations.

Commander of Immigration Division 3 of the Thai Royal Police, Pol Maj Gen Archayon Kraithong, said that between June 2018 and May this year, 306 romance scam cases were reported to Thailand’s Action Taskforce for Information Technology Crime Suppression (Tactics).

Of these, 252 con artists were apprehended, and some 4.57 million baht of the ill-gotten gains was retrieved from them and returned to 23 victims.

In an interview with Bernama recently, he said that in the last six months of 2018, some 254 cases were reported to Tactics.

The police and the Immigration went all-out after that in a major nationwide crackdown on the syndicates, and Archayon believes the high number of syndicates crippled is a reason why the number of similar scams has fallen sharply of late.

He said that from January to May this year, a total of 61 cases were recorded, of which only five were reported in April compared to an average of 60 cases a month last year.

And Archayon believes that the reason for this is simply because many of the syndicates are not even in Thailand anymore.

“Now, most of them (scammers) have moved their base to Malaysia, but not all as there are some still remaining in Thailand,“ he said.

The police stings are not confined to home either. In January, Thai police joined their Malaysian counterparts to bust a romance scam syndicate of Nigerians operating out of Kuala Lumpur who, till then, had conned Thais out of some 100 million baht.

The operation led to the arrest of seven Nigerians and seven female Thai accomplices and it was the same gang that fled Thailand a year ago to set up in base in Kuala Lumpur.

Archayon said that typically, online love scam syndicates in Thailand are mostly operated by Africans, who will be in cohorts with their local wives of girlfriends to prey on Thai women via online dating platforms and social media sites such as Facebook.

The conman will normally assume a fake Caucasian identity and after establishing romantic relationships with their victims, will persuade them to wire them money on the pretext that it was needed to pay fees or taxes for the delivery of their luxury gifts for the victims.

If there is suspicion raised, the conmen will get their local partners to pose as local enforcement authorities or delivery employees to make the calls sound authentic.

“It is sad to see the locals being lured into this intricate trap of love scams,“ he said.

Besides romance scams, Archayon said, Thais also fall prey to “call centre” scams where syndicates use fake identities to dupe victims to part with their cash

Since December 2017 to May this year, Archayon said, Thais have been cheated out of 260.4 million baht by these “call centre” syndicates.

“We returned about 25.7 million baht seized from these scammers to 125 victims,“ he said, adding that 551 suspects were arrested.

Similar to what happened with the romance scams, the number of cases dropped sharply after major crackdowns in the country as well as joint operations with counterparts in the region, with only six cases reported so far in the first five months this year, compared to 356 reported throughout 2018.

Archayon said many call centre scam syndicates prefer using Thailand as their operations base as it had the perfect conditions for foreign nationals - good food, cheap accommodation, good infrastructure, flexible laws and some good hideout locations as well.

He said the cases are made more baffling after police found that among the victims were professionals and those holding high posts in the private and public sectors. — Bernama

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